Navdeep Suri, Indian Ambassador in the UAE and grandson of Punjabi’s most celebrated novelist Nanak Singh, presents ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’.
Nanak Singh, one of the most prolific and best selling novelists in India, went on to win the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1962 for his book ‘Ik Mian Do Talwaran’.
In 1968, veteran actor Balraj Sahni adapted Nanak Singh’s popular novel ‘Pavitra Papi’ for a Hindi feature film with the same name. But even at that time, little did we know that Nanak Singh had written an epic poem after the tragedy of Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, an incident on April 13, 1919, in which British troops fired on a large crowd of unarmed Indians in an open space known as the Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in Punjab, killing several hundred people and wounding many hundreds more.
Nanak Singh was in the crowd at Jallianwala Bagh.
Twenty-two-year-old Nanak Singh joins the mass of peaceful protestors, agitating against the Rowlatt Act at Jallianwala Bagh on13 April, 1919. What then turns out to be one of the worst atrocities perpetrated by the British Raj, and a turning point in India’s independence movement, also becomes a life-changing experience for Nanak Singh, who survives the massacre, unconscious and unnoticed among the hundreds of corpses.
After going through the traumatic experience, Nanak Singh proceeds to write Khooni Vaisakhi, a long poem in Punjabi.
The poem was a scathing critique of the British Raj and was banned soon after its publication in May 1920. After sixty long years, it was rediscovered and has been translated into English for the first time by the author’s grandson, Navdeep Suri. Featuring the poem in translation and in original, this bilingual book is accompanied by essays from Navdeep Suri, Punjabi literature scholar H.S. Bhatia and BBC correspondent Justin Rowlatt.
Khooni Vaisakhi is not only a poignant piece of protest literature but also a historical artefact and a resurrected witness to how Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims came together to stand up to colonisation and oppression in one of India’s darkest moments.
Navdeep Suri introduces the poem as he recites ‘Khooni Vaisakhi’ in Punjabi with his translation of the poem in English at the Cine Ink Launch in London on 14 June 2019.