Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat is a compilation of articles written by late Khushwant Singh in various publications at different points in time, including one unpublished one from his journal. I have enjoyed reading the writing of Khushwant Singh. His book on Delhi is well written in alternate chapters. I liked his The Sunset Club based in Lodhi Gardens of Delhi. His thoughts on how to lead life were also interesting in Absolute Khushwant. However, this book made me realize I have never read his political views.
I knew that he was a staunch Sikh, no matter how much he claimed to be atheist. I intended to read his history of Sikhs. But now I am not very sure if it is an objective documentation of the same.
Being born and brought up in Punjab, I was keen to read about Punjab. Its history and its stories from someone who has seen the partition moved from Pakistan to India and has witnessed the worst days in modern Punjab history. Add to it the fact that he has studied and written the history of the state.
I have very mixed feelings after reading the book Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat. One, the fact that these pieces were written at different points in time, the timeline of which has not been shared with the readers. Second, the author himself has not chosen the pieces, someone else has curated them out of potentially many more pieces written by Khushwant Singh. Third, do I see a pattern behind chosen pieces, I would say, probably yes.
Khushwant’s Native Village
I loved the piece where Khushwant Singh talks about his village Hadali that is now in Pakistan. Like any grown-up man who is away from the place he was born at, he speaks nostalgically about the gone childhood. He remembers his family, his friends, his school, his playground and his dreams. He also talks about how his family moved from Lahore to Delhi couple of days after partition.
Buy Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat: Reflections on a Land and its People by Khushwant Singh at Amazon.
When he talks about the history of Sikhs, I do not agree with him. I do not think Guru Nanak Dev ever wanted to start a new religion. He blatantly refused to acknowledge the fact that all the 10 Gurus were Hindus and it is only the last Guru who started a new Panth called Khalsa of the warrior class to defend Hindus. Looks like his biggest fear in life was that Sikhism may not lose its identity and the religion may not get merged in mainstream Hinduism.
When he writes about Punjab during the 1980s, he talks about one odd Sikh killed, he tells you all his family history. He tells you about a Sikh who gets killed because he wore short hair. He fails to mention that almost every night Hindus were pulled out and killed mercilessly. Such a myopic view of the situation is regrettable, to say the least.
He is proud of the fact that a Sikh is the Prime Minister of the country. Almost as an insider he says, this Sikh has appointed another Sikh as chairman of planning commission. Bias is shouting from the rooftop.
I liked the small pieces written on many Punjabis. I have to admit that I knew nothing about most of them – be it Baba Kharak Singh, Bhagat Puran Singh or P C Lal. Incidentally, anything written on the Punjabis who contributed to freedom struggle has been given a miss. Or maybe Khushwant Singh never wrote about them.
In retrospect, I see him as a highly biased person who could see things only through the lens of his own religion. His only concern is that Sikhs should not lose their faith and identity – which is a fair concern. However, did Hinduism ever try to consume Sikhism? Where this fear was coming from I could not gather it from the pieces chosen for this anthology by Khushwant Singh.
Not giving the time of publication of these pieces also takes away a reference point. Newspaper articles are always in a context.
Khushwant Singh’s writing is always a pleasure to read. Read it for that.
As a Punjabi myself, this is a very skewed view of the state, its residents and its history.