This article is part of The Wire‘s series, Memories of a Massacre, to mark the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh killings.
Punjabi writer Nanak Singh was present at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919. As General Reginald Dyer’s British troops opened fire on the unarmed civilians protesting against the Rowlatt Act, Nanak Singh, then 22, fainted and his unconscious body was piled up among the hundreds of bodies of the dead and the wounded.
Singh’s long poem, “Khooni Vaisakhi”, narrates the political events in the run up to the massacre and its immediate aftermath. A scathing critique of the British Raj, the poem was banned soon after its publication in May 1920 and then, lost for decades.
On the centenary, Nanak Singh’s grandson, Navdeep Suri – also India’s Ambassador to the UAE – has translated it into English, in a book now published by HarperCollins India. Suri tells The Wire about how the poem resonates even in the present day.
An excerpt from “Khooni Vaisakhi” to mark the centenary of the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre.
Ram Navami Celebrations amid Hindu–Muslim Unity
Hindus and Muslims they gathered together
To rejoice at a festival, O my friends.
Brotherhood conveyed by Muslims that day
Beyond incredible it was, my friends.
A festival of Hindus though it was
Muslims made it just their own, my friends.
‘Tis hard to describe this feeling new
A miracle, it truly seemed, my friends.
Doctors Saifudin, Satyapal together
Tread on a path united, my friends.
Feted with garlands, our stalwart duo
Sent out a message clear, my friends.
Their friendship displayed a bond so strong
Hindu Muslim were the same, my friends.
Such harmony never seen before
Since God made this world, O my friends.
The seed of friendship between these faiths
Descended from heaven itself, my friends.
Discord and difference seemed to vanish
Each saw the other as brother, my friends.
Shared the same glass to drink their water,
Sat down for meals together, my friends.
Like brothers separated since their birth
Stood united now by a miracle, my friends.
Each Muslim tried to outdo the other
Served sweetened drinks to all, my friends.
Each one stood with their Hindu mate
Showering flowers on devotees all, my friends.
Groups joyous lined up on the festive route
Cheering the jubilant Hindu parade, my friends.
Lord Krishna seemed charmed by the sight
Like Holi played at Vrindavan, my friends.
But Fate, it had some different plans
Why open your shops today, my friends?
The town will be on strike tomorrow
You’ll catch a hail of bullets, my friends.