Punjabi Stories from the Land of Five Rivers

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Deriving its name from five full-bodied rivers–Sutlej, Beas, Ravi, Jhelum, and Chenab–which flow through its vast plains, Punjab is representative of abundant things. Punjab is a land of ethnic and religious diversity, having borne and shaped a number of religious movements that include Sikhism, Buddhism and Sufism. The language of the state, too, finds its origin in the Indo-European linguistic family that includes Persian and Latin, with which India’s literature has been enriched by Punjabi stories. Naturally replete with fertile soils and rich water sources, it is primarily an agricultural state, and has continually and infinitely contributed to the food security of the Indian Republic.

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Discover the social landscape of the state known for its heartiest welcomes and delectable food!

This list of books is curated by Amritesh Mukherjee for Purple Pencil Project’s Instagram.

 The Ballad of Bant Singh: A Qissa of Courage

Title: The Ballad of Bant Singh: A Qissa of Courage

Author: Nirupama Dutt

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing

Price: Rs. 204

Pages: 224


On the evening of 5th January 2006, Bant Singh, a Dalit agrarian labourer and activist in Punjab’s Jhabar village, was ambushed and brutally beaten by upper-caste Jat men armed with iron rods and axes. He lost both his arms and a leg in the attack. It was punishment for having fought for justice for his minor daughter who had been gang-raped. But his spirit was not broken, and he continues to fight for equality and dignity for millions like him, inspiring them with his revolutionary songs and his courage. Journalist and writer Nirupama Dutt tells Bant Singh’s story in this powerful book which is both the biography of an extraordinary human being and a comment on the deep fault lines in Punjabi and Indian society.

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Selected Stories of Amrita Pritam

Title: Selected Stories of Amrita Pritam

Author: Author Amrita Pritam, translated by Amritbir Kaur

Publisher: National Book Trust India

Price: Rs. 350

Pages: 450


A woman is the central character of all her stories. Invariably, Amrita Pritam weaves stories around women of every age, class, category, and profession. These women are depicted as independent and dedicated to their families but are seen to be buckling up under societal pressure. They fend for themselves but resign to their fates many a time when tortured by conditions so created.

An attempt has been made by this anthology to shed some fresh light on Amrita Pritam’s character and the precision with which she has written the stories.

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Punjab, Punjabis and Punjabiyat: Reflections on a Land and its People

Title: Punjab, Punjabis and Punjabiyat: Reflections on a Land and its People

Author: Khushwant Singh

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Price: Rs. 442

Pages: 208


Punjab, Punjabis & Punjabiyat brings together Khushwant Singh’s best writings on Punjab, Punjabis and the Sikhs. Divided into three parts, the book deals with various aspects of the region—its geography, climate, history, culture, religion, politics, language and literature. Part I of the book delves into Punjab’s history, culture, language and Sikhism. Part II covers the burning issues that affected the state during Khushwant Singh’s lifetime, including the pains of Partition, the Khalistan movement, Operation Blue Star, the anti-Sikh riots, and more. Part III is a collection of profiles of well-known Punjabis—poets, politicians, activists, friends and family.

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Crimson Spring

Title: Crimson Spring

Author: Navtej Sarna

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Price: Rs. 712

Pages: 312


In this masterpiece, Navtej Sarna brings the horror of the atrocity to life by viewing it through the eyes of nine characters—Indians and Britons, ordinary people and powerful officials, the innocent and the guilty, whose lives are changed forever by the events of that fateful day. Set against the epic backdrop of India’s freedom struggle, World War I, and the Ghadar movement, Crimson Spring is not just a powerful, unsettling look at a barbarous act, but also a wider meditation on the costs of colonialism and the sacrifices and heroism of ordinary men and women at a time of great cruelty and injustice. It is a book that will leave no reader unmoved or unchanged.

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 Hymns in Blood

Title: Hymns in Blood

Author: Author Nanak Singh, translated by Navdeep Suri

Publisher: Harper Perennial India

Price: Rs. 207

Pages: 264


1947, Chakri. An idyllic village on the banks of the Soan near Rawalpindi, surrounded by stalks of golden wheat and festive songs. Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs eagerly await the end of winter and get together to prepare for Lohri. Amidst this joyous bustle, Baba Bhana, the erudite village elder, worries about the future of his foster daughter, Naseem. Life comes to a halt when news of a possible partition of India reaches the village. Amid a frenzy of communal violence, Baba Bhana and his family must reluctantly leave their beloved village. They embark on a long and dangerous journey, slowly coming to terms with the fact that their lives may be changing forever.

Khoon de Sohile, first published in February 1948, and now translated for the first time into English, provides a timely reminder of the grief and trauma that a religious divide brings in its wake.

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Alms in the Name of a Blind Horse

Title: Alms in the Name of a Blind Horse

Author: Author Gurdial Singh, translated by Rana Nayar

Publisher: Rupa Publications India

Price: Rs. 175

Pages: 186


Alms in the Name of a Blind Horse (Anhe Ghore Da Daan) is a modern classic that derives its title from an ancient myth associated with the Churning of the Ocean, in which Lord Vishnu had been less than fair in his dispensation to the Asuras, supposedly the progenitors of latter-day Dalits. Through this novel, Gurdial Singh emphasizes that just as the Asuras had to depend upon the arbitrary dispensation of the Lord, in the same way, the modern Dalits have to rely on the mercy and compassion of the village overlords. On the day of the lunar and solar eclipse, they still ask for the alms in the name of the blind horse. The events of this novel are confined to one such day of a lunar eclipse in the lives of its characters. Often it is believed that poor, landless and marginalized characters such as Melu, his bapu, his Chacha Partapa, etc. lead banal and uneventful lives, which are not even worthy of a description, let alone artistic treatment. Exploding this myth, Gurdial Singh has created this ‘whirlpool of a novella’ around an unending spate of events that enmesh the hapless lives of its characters, all in the course of a single day.

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Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines

Title: Panjab: Journeys Through Fault Lines

Author: Amandeep Sandhu

Publisher: Westland

Price: Rs. –

Pages: 580


In 2015, Amandeep Sandhu began an investigation that was meant to resolve the ‘hole in his heart’, his ‘emptiness about matters Panjab’. For three years, he crisscrossed the state and discovered a land that was nothing like the one he had imagined and not like the stories he had heard.

Present-day Panjab prides itself on legends of its military and valorous past even as it struggles with daily horrors. The Green Revolution has wreaked ecological havoc in the state, and a decade and a half of militancy has destabilised its economy and governance. Sikhism—the state’s eclectic and syncretic religion— is in crisis, its gatekeepers brooking no dissent and giving little spiritual guidance. And Panjab has yet to recover from the loss of its other half, now in Pakistan.

Underneath it all, though, the old spirit of the land beats away— an undercurrent of resistance to power and hegemony that holds the hope that Panjab’s unyielding knots can be untied.

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 Shanti Parav: Treatise on Peace

Title: Shanti Parav: Treatise on Peace

Author: Author Des Raj Kali, translated by Neeti Singh

Publisher: Orient Blackswan

Price: Rs. 373

Pages: 152


A post-Independence novel set in the heartland of Punjab, Shanti Parav invites a study of post-colonial socio-political dynamics in India from a Punjabi Dalit perspective. It locates the Dalit within the caste–religion–power nexus and furnishes alternate narratives of the freedom struggle, terrorism, state violence, development, capitalism and democracy.

The proletarian context of Shanti Parav is harsh and stark, but also colourful, irreverent, carnivalesque, and even absurd. Boldly experimental, the novel has a dual narrative which playfully challenges the reader to acquire new ways of reading and interpreting a text. The ‘fictional’ text in the upper half of the page narrates autobiographical stories that recount the struggles and joys of the protagonist’s immediate, everyday subaltern world, while in the lower half run ‘realistic’, quirky, grand historical monologues by three retired Dalit characters who offer philosophical discourses on governance, violence and peace.

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Anshika Jain

Anshika Jain

Anshika's existence revolves around books, caffeine, and Hindi songs (Bollywood and indie). When not reading, she'll be trying to persuade other people to either read A Suitable Boy or watch "tick, tick... BOOM!"

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