Forever scarred

Noted Punjabi writer Nanak Singh was one of the lucky survivors of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre. Just 22 then, he penned Khooni Vaisakhi, capturing the tragedy and its aftermath. His grandson Navdeep Suri brings out the English version of this epochal work. Excerpts...

THE GATHERING IN JALLIANWALA BAGH

As the clock struck five on thirteenth April 

They all gather in the Bagh, my friends.

Seeking justice fair and honour, they stand

Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims together, my friends.

Folks young and old, and lads went too

For only a handful had stayed back, my friends.

They went to speak, to share their grief

Place lives at stake without fear, my friends.

Worrying no more about their precious lives

They left this world behind, my friends.

With slender hope of coming back home

Desires and dreams abandoned too, my friends.

With their own blood, they wanted to bloom

The parched soil of the Bagh, my friends.

Like swarms of moths, they gathered around

To be singed by violent flames, my friends.

Fed up with life, they courted death

Forcing Yama to accept their will, my friends.

Like Mansour, who said, ‘I am the Truth!’

When he knew he’d meet the gallows, 

my friends.

Like Shams Tabrizi, whose quest for God

Ended up in a painful death, my friends.

* * *

Like birds from the woods, they flocked together

So the hawk could have his fill, my friends.

To quench Dyer’s deadly thirst

With streams of blood their own, my friends.

Ah! My city mourns with grief today

Happy homes lie shattered because they go.

Heads held high offered for sacrifice

For Bharat Mata’s pride and honour, they go.

Pray, stop these valiant souls of God!

Straight to the abyss, they rise and go.

O mothers, watch your precious sons

To give up their youthful lives, they go.

O sisters, hold back your brothers dear

You won’t see them again once they go.

O wives, hang on to your dear beloveds

Or you’ll spend your lives widowed, if 

they go.

O children, go run and hug your fathers

‘Cause you’ll be orphans if they go.

Stop them, hold them, do what you can

They won’t come back, once they go.

Says Nanak Singh, Can’t stop them now

For nation’s sake to die they go.


BRIG. GEN DYER ARRIVES, GUNFIRE BEGINS

Five-thirty sharp the clock had struck

Thousands gathered in the Bagh, my friends.

Leaders came to lament the nation’s woes

Taking turns to speak out loud, my friends.

Voiced grievance, hardship, anger, sorrow

Saying, no one listens to us, my friends.

What can we do, what options left?

Can’t see any ray of light, my friends.

Those words forlorn, they barely voiced

Came soldiers thundering down, my friends.

At Dyer’s command, those Gurkha troops 

Gathered in a formation tight, my friends.

Under the tyrant’s orders, they opened fire

Straight into innocent hearts, my friends.

And fire and fire and fire they did

Some thousands of bullets were shot, 

my friends.

Like searing hail they felled our youth

A tempest not seen before, my friends. 

Riddled chests and bodies slid to the ground

Each one a target large, my friends.

Haunting cries for help did rend the sky

Smoke rose from smouldering guns, my friends.

Just a sip of water was all they sought

Valiant youth lay dying in the dust, my friends.

* * *

That narrow lane to enter the Bagh

Sealed off on Dyer’s command, my friends.

No exit, no escape, no way out was left

Making the Bagh a deathly trap, my friends.

A fortunate few somehow survived

While most died then and there, my friends.

Some ran with bullets ripping their chest

Stumbling to their painful end, my friends.

Others caught the bullet while running away

Dropping lifeless in awkward heaps, my friends.

In minutes, the Bagh so strewn with corpses

None knew just who was who, my friends.

Many of them did look like Sikhs

Amid Hindus and Muslims plenty, my friends.

In the prime of their youth, our bravehearts lay 

Gasping for one last breath, my friends.

Long hair lay matted in blood and grime

In slumber deep they sleep, my friends.

Says Nanak Singh, Who knows their state

But God the One and Only, my friends. 


PEOPLE WAILING AS THEY BRING THE CORPSES OF LOVED ONES

With faces drawn and muffled sobs

They sift through the corpses in silent fear.

Like moth on a flame, hearts burn to ashes

On seeing the fate of sons so dear.

Ah! The pain of losing a child so precious 

Like the heart is pierced with dagger or spear.

Grief inconsolable melts the toughest of souls

Even faces most stoic shed tear after tear.

Excerpted with permission from the publisher 

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