To The Soldiers Of Punjab Who Gave Their All On The Killing Fields Of The First World WarAMARJIT SINGH CHANDAN
The following is an excerpt from remarks delivered both in Punjabi and English at The Chhattri Soldiers’ Memorial in Brighton, United Kingdom, on November 19, 2014.
My dear Compatriots, my fellow Punjabis: Anokh Lal, Ram Ratan Arora, Bagh Singh, Balwant Singh, Bara Singh, Bhag Singh, Bhartu, Chandrabhan, Dallu, Godar, Harnam Singh, Hazara Singh, Jahan Singh, Jai Singh, Jog Singh, Kishan Chand, Kishan Lal, Mangal Singh, Manta Singh, Phuman Singh, Pyare Singh, Rabel Singh, Radha Singh, Santa Singh, Shankar Singh and Sulakhan Singh ji:
Sat Sri Akãl!
I, Amarjit Singh, originally from Nakodar, have come here all the way from London, which is my home now; where the grand-daughter of the King-Emperor George V lives and rules over the British Isles.
I have brought uncensored messages for you from your loved ones – your mothers, sisters, wives and friends – whom you with a heavy heart had left behind starting your journey into the Unknown.
Ironically, it was indeed the unknown as you didn’t know where you were heading across the proverbial ‘seven black seas‘ because you didn't even know how to read a map.
These messages could not be posted to you as your womenfolk composed the songs to console themselves, trying to fill the abyss of your absence. They would have felt shy and embarrassed to reveal their hearts to paper.
That’s why these were never mailed to you. They did not want to upset you more. Sadly there are no messages from your fathers, your brothers or your sons. They suffered in silence. Men are all the same. Suffering causes confusion.
In these songs your women are angry with you for being ‘greedy for money’, and curse the firangees – Germans and the Britons – for their misery.
Statistics follow the historical catastrophes. Though I know numbers will not mean any thing to you. But did you know how many of your fellow countrymen enlisted in the Firangee army? More than a million. Did you know how many were killed and wounded? Not less than one hundred thousand.
Alas, you were not lucky enough to go back home; some of you were even maimed.
While you were fighting the war, which was not yours, my grandfather, his brothers and my father were fighting against the warmongers, the colonialists, the Occupiers of our Punjab.
When I say this; there is nothing to be ashamed of or to be proud. We do what we are supposed to be doing in given circumstances.
Your Muslim brethren, your childhood friends coming from the same villages, lie buried in Woking a few miles away from here.
You didn’t want to die; you didn’t deserve to die like this.
Your ashes would have been scattered in the sea consigned to the elements. They say the atom is indestructible and so is the sound. The sound of words and the silences in the folksongs composed by your women I am going to read out will mingle with your atoms in the sky above -- the fifth element in our philosophy of life.
Now you will never be alone again.
[The speech was made in Punjabi, and the folk songs from the WW1 era were also recited in their original Punjabi. Their English translations were then read out by Sasha Dugdale, poet and editor of ‘Modern Poetry in Translation’.]
November 11, 2015
Conversation about this article
1: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), November 17, 2015, 9:20 AM.
Some boliaan that slice through the heart: 1) Chitthiaan kidhar noo(n) paavaa(n) / duss ke na gya mitra. 2) Daakiye noo(n) dosh dainee e(n) / tera maahi chitthiaan na paavey. 3) kutt de pharangiaa naavaa(n) / iko put meri suss da. 4) ranna(n) vaaley jang jitdey / kitthey likhiya pharangiaa duss vey. 5) kittey sukh da sunehaa ghull vey / muddataa(n) guzar gaeeyaa(n).