Not singing an ode to the good times can be forgiven, but the lament of cumulative losses should be given a voice. This work, hence, was long due. The author has successfully peeled off the facade of Punjab’s prosperity to expose the real fault lines.
The biggest irony about Punjab, expressed right at the beginning, is that its ‘imprint is larger than its footprint’ and it holds true till the end of the book. The endless swathes of land blooming with mustard flowers as portrayed in popular Bollywood flicks conceal the woes of its people. The gun and booze culture, swanky SUVs, patriarchy and regressive caste system are glorified to the hilt in Punjabi songs. Such persistent but deceptive portrayal conceals the otherwise sad state of affairs.
The book, divided into 16 chapters, has virtually touched every aspect of the state. Every title in itself is an SOS call from a sinking ship asking for help to plug a particular orifice, unmindful of the potential threat from other orifices. The author has deliberately kept the historical context alive so that the reader can get a feel of the transitions that came across hundreds of years. It is a fact that the present cannot be understood without understanding the past. The author has never overlooked this fact for a moment. In this context, he has also traversed his roots to accentuate the primary narrative.
The author’s accounts are laudably first hand for he was out there in the field, covering various aspects of the state. He draws inferences from the contemporary farmer and labour movements while giving an account of the erstwhile peasant uprisings such as the Pepsu Muzara movement. He also sat through the shambolic sangat darshans of the previous regime. He traces a cynical and yet interesting first-hand narrative of a pristine rivulet’s transformation into the horrific Buddha Nullah, the bane of the industrial hub of Ludhiana.
The apathy of the successive Union governments towards Punjab has been told with relevant facts and evokes empathy. The neo-liberal economy of the country might have ushered an era of prosperity across the nation but the author has very objectively discerned how it sabotaged Punjab’s agro-based economy. Its waters have been targeted against all the accepted international principles of division of river waters.
The author has given a fresh perspective to the turbulent times that the state faced during the separatist movement. He highlights the collective failure of the religious and political leadership of the state in bringing about a justifiable closure. The Khalistan bogey is kept alive by elements across the political spectrum for the sake of various vested interests.
While it may not be possible to touch all aspects of the book in this column, it is reiterated that hardly any subject pertaining to the state has been left untouched. From drugs to recurring question of Sikh identity in conjunction with the recent incidents of sacrilege and prevailing immigration trends, each has been introspected thoroughly. It is also a constructive recapitulation of most of the contemporary events occurring across the state.
Punjab emerges as a land of paradoxes. The land which cradles one of the most egalitarian faiths of the world lies entrapped in casteism and patriarchy. The remedy lies in the diagnosis itself which has been successfully done by the author. I hope the policy makers across the ranks make the most of it as they sincerely contemplate course correction.
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