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Sunday, May 9, 2021

Khooni Vaisakhi: Poem from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919

‘Fire and fire and fire they did’.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

 

In a moving piece of Punjabi literature, this is Khooni Vaisakhi, a narrative poem by prominent Punjabi writer Nanak Singh. It’s an account of his experience of the 1919 massacre at Jallianwallah Bagh, where he was present and survived. It was translated into English by his grandson Ambassador Navdeep Suri, a former Indian High Commissioner to Australia.

In 2020, former Australian High Commissioner to India Harinder Sidhu joined Indian Link‘s literature series “Long Story Short” where she read out an excerpt from Khooni Vaisakhi.

Here’s the full video:

 

Here’s another powerful excerpt from the book:

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.

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.

From Khooni Vaisakhi: A Poem from the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre, 1919 by Nanak Singh and Navdeep Singh Suri  (2019 HarperCollins India).

READ ALSO: The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company (Excerpt)

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