SOA Literature Festival; My love, longing and my identity

Published: Feb 4, 2020, 2:42 pm IST

By Amandeep Sandhu

As I landed  at Bengaluru airport on my way back from the excellently hosted SOA Literary Festival, Bhubhaneshwar a strange sense of longing overwhelmed me. In these days when through CAA/NRC our belonging is questioned, I have no way to describe the nostalgia but as a sort of umbilical pull to the place from where I came into the world.

In my latest book “PANJAB”  I explain my reason to work on Panjab: ‘Unlike people born in Panjab who have a direct connection with, and hence a memory of the land, I have no liminal or tangible marker of belonging to Panjab. While my family did hail from Panjab, I was neither born here, nor do I live here. I have no address, bank statement, Aadhaar card, passport or land ownership to prove my connection with Panjab.’

All these documents I cite are what would come in handy for CAA/NRC if it is ever implemented. I hope never!

In the same vein, the name that occurs on my Passport, is Rourkela, Odisha. I was born there. I wonder if my nostalgia for Odisha today also comes from Kedar Mishra (the moderator of our one to one session)   mentioning how I love the Pakhala (a rice gruel) and Handia (a sort of rice beer). Yes, that is true, it does comes from food, habits, rituals, the Odia language that I imbibed in my childhood in Odisha. It fills me with longing and desire to reclaim that space. I love to go back to Odisha and this love of mine is reciprocated every time I go there and Odisha showers its love and warmth on me.

Talking about it in one of the sessions at the Festival I said: ‘My birth in Rourkela was a result of my parents migrating to the steel town, my father working in the steel plant to actualise Nehru’s ‘temples of modern India’. Many like me, who are children of these Public Sector Unit towns studied in English medium schools, went to good colleges, mostly technical, benefited from the neo-liberalisation of Indian economy when they found jobs in Multi National Companies, now form the cream of technocrats in India and abroad. This generation, my generation, has glossed over the thrust of newly formed India, their own biography, and finds itself rootless and amputated from the towns they were born in, the towns that form their memory of childhood. It is this set of people who also joined the chorus of India to be transformed into a Hindu Rashtra.’

That is why I believe my generation is wrong in its support for Hindutva nationalism. It has caught the wrong end of the stick, so to say. Instead of reaffirming its love for these alien social and cultural spaces that shaped it, it seeks to undo its childhood, its innocence, and support the Hindutva monster that will annihilate it and whoever it considers the other. Instead of creating home – in my case a little bit of Odisha, a little bit of Panjab, a little bit of Kerala in Bengaluru where I now live – this generation seeks to bury its own biography and burn its home by falling prey to some vague notion of an ancient glorious Bharat Varsh. Nations, like rivers, are never static. They are in eternal flow, made up of the distributaries of individual and community biographies.

Kedar said, I am in fact the son of two mothers, my own and of Mando – my nanny who brought me up from ‘Sepia Leaves’. He asked me where do I see Mando and Odisha today? I replied, ‘I see them out of the Hindutva discourse, the narrative, the canon that India is now assuming – ‘Bharat ke gadaron ko, goli maaro saalon ko.”

That is my problem with Hindutwa. It seeks to obliterate my biography.

(Amandeep Sandhu is a well known novelist and writer based in Bengaluru. His recently published non fiction “Panjab, journeys through fault lines”is highly acclaimed.)