Review of Book – Time Out by Jasjit Mansingh Punjabi literature is rooted geographically in the regions of Punjab both in India and Pakistan as well as linguistically in the written Gurmukhi script. Punjabi is spoken largely in the Punjabs as well as by immigrants in the diaspora. It is purported to be the eleventh most widely spoken language in the world. The literature’s links to the Sikh religion too cannot be ignored as some of the most beautiful Punjabi poetry can be traced back to the Guru Granth Sahib – the holy book of the Sikhs. Bhai Vir Singh is regarded as the father of modern Punjabi literature but these stories include a more contemporary list of authors ranging from Amrita Pritam, K.S. Duggal Manmohan Bawa, Ramindra Ajit Singh and many others. In a unique move, the editor Jasjit Mansingh has also included a story “Who did they Murder?” by Taquir Chugtai – a Punjabi writer from Pakistan. The stories have been carefully arranged to provide the readers with “a sense of the layers of time and events” that have shaped “the modern Punjabi”. One justification of the choice of stories that I found slightly puzzling is Mansingh’s admission that in the initial selection she had not included “any of the bloodcurdling stories spawned by the most traumatic event in India’s history during the twentieth century – the Partition of Punjab and Bengal.” But then she changed her mind after 11 September 2001 because “it was no longer possible to turn a blind eye to any form of bigotry.” If Partition was indeed central in shaping the modern Punjabi then how is it possible to even consider leaving it out? It is interesting that the siege of the Golden Temple or the anti Sikh riots of 1984 that profoundly impacted every Punjabi did not move her to recognize bigotry. The storming of the Golden Temple dramatically altered the relationship between an individual, and especially a Sikh, and the state. At a more personal level it also changed the nature of the relationships between Hindus and Sikhs. It is instead the destruction of the twin towers almost two decades later in the USA that compels her to include the “bloodcurdling” Partition stories. These stories in any case are far from being just viciously violent narrations; rather, they are stories of individual human compassion beyond religious divisions. Ajeet Cour’s “November 1984” for example is not a short story but an eye witness account of the violent attacks on Sikhs following the assassination of then prime minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards. I wonder if there were no fictional works dealing with this. While Cour’s accounts are moving, the inclusion blurs the lines between fiction and reportage. Cour mentions three specific incidents – stories - that particularly struck her during her work in the refugee camps. While officials were complicit in the brutal assaults targeting Sikhs, common people reached out to the victims to console them in their tragic losses. Prem Prakash’s “He is not that Jasbir” beautifully explores the fog of suspicion amid which two erstwhile friends renegotiate their relationship. The story illustrates how past friendship in those turbulent times was often not enough to re-connect people who now had to factor in religious identity and calibrate different loyalties. Baldev Singh’s “Her Last Cries” similarly deals with the issue of identity but at a much earlier time, after Partition. The character Bhagwan Kaur in the story is the well loved matriarch at the heart of a large Jat family. At her death, her old friend quietly reveals to another relative that in fact Bhagwan Kaur’s real name was Miriam. Her whole family had been killed before her eyes but she was saved by a neighbour who then brought her up in his family. She is first the daughter and then daughter-in-law and then the matriarch of the family. Her past as Miriam is buried under layers of time. It is only with her old friend
who recognizes and remembers her as Miriam that she can be her true self and talk about her natal family. This secret is kept deeply buried even from her own children and grand children. This aspect of women’s silence especially during the Partition has been well documented in the oral histories recorded by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon and this particular story resonates with the emotional truth of those narrations. One of the most moving stories in the book is Jaswant Singh Virdi’s “A Miracle”. Once again, it is set during Partition and recounts an incident from the point of view of a male narrator who sees a young Muslim girl of the neighbourhood being led naked through the streets by a mob. People watch but nobody comes forward to help her. The young man finally takes off his turban and covers her. As a knife comes whistling through the air towards him, the young girl steps forward and is killed. Not only is this a heartwarming story of communal tolerance and respect that redeems ones faith in individuals but the use of the turban as a symbol of honour and dignity is insightful and complex. Although Punjabis have emigrated all across the world and there are sizeable Punjabi communities in the UK, Canada, the US as well as Kenya, Australia and Hong Kong among other places, there are no stories in this collection that reflect the reality of the diaspora connections. These immigrants often left families behind or have at least been separated from an affective kin group and yet this aspect is surprisingly absent in these stories. In a varied collection of stories such as these it is difficult to do justice to all. But altogether they provide a compelling read. Read the review of Time Out by Jasjit Mansingh and more books, simply logon to Justbooksclc, the best book library in Bangalore.
Published on Sep 30, 2010
Published on Sep 30, 2010
This lovely collection of short stories spans a time period from about 1947 to the present day. It provides an insight into the everyday liv...