“Crimson Spring” is an exceptionally remarkable novel in the sense that every bit of information it contains is factually absolutely correct. Yet author Navtej Sarna probably felt a great need to free the novel’s theme from the empirical shackles so that he could explore the world of subjectivities – grief, trauma and anger – and show how ordinary lives were transformed by the Jallianwala massacre. Bagh. . This transformation of people’s lives is the central theme of the novel.
It proceeds at three distinct but interdependent levels. First, in some ways, it is the story of the making of Punjab, its villages, its economic life, its institutions, its traditions and a somewhat atypical religious profile. It is a region where religion did not arise in an exalted, high and doctrinal way, but rather in a low, Sufi and ritualistic way. This characteristic of Punjab blurred the lines of demarcation between different religions, and it became difficult to identify explicitly where one religion ended and another began. Much of socio-religious life in Punjab went on like this, until the 19th century anyway, but did not completely disappear until much later. This trait can be identified as the idea of Punjab, or rather Punjabiyat. It was this composite Punjabiyat that began to mutate into a hyphenated Punjabiyat when the ancient Punjabis began to emerge as Muslim Punjabis, Hindu Punjabis and Sikh Punjabis. It is the landscape that permeates the novel and constitutes its general framework.
On a more specific level, the novel tells the stories of a few ordinary men and women who were caught off guard by the momentous events of Amritsar in April 1919. Maya Devi regularly prays that she may be blessed with a son. Ralla Singh can’t wait to meet Kirpal Singh, his nephew who has just returned from the Great War. Gurnam Singh is a rather pro-British litigant. But he is very disappointed with the Rowlatt law introduced by the government, which would put litigants like him out of work. If the trials were rushed without requiring any daleel, vakil or appeal, people like Gurnam Singh would find themselves unemployed and would have to go back to farming in the village. Sucha Singh is a composer with Dr. Hardit Singh who has lived an eventful life. Obviously, there weren’t too many people in Amritsar in April 1919 who were very determined to end British rule. There was no grand plot of a grand rebellion, as the British naively believed. However, on that fateful April 13, the day of Baisakhi, their lives changed, fundamentally and irreversibly. The novel describes their stories and how their lives have changed.
Of course, their lives aren’t the only things that have changed. Much more: politics in Punjab, the character of Indian nationalism, the basis of British rule, the relationship between rulers and ruled, and much more. Jallianwala Bagh was truly a moment of great paradigm shift in Indian politics. The life of the common people of Amritsar, told so beautifully in the novel, reflects the life of the Indian nation.
Another important feature of the novel is that it brought together the various events – both before and after Jallianwala Bagh – into a connected chain. Through the experiences of Sucha Singh, the novel highlighted the importance of the Ghadar movement, one of the least studied episodes of the nationalist struggle. The Ghadar movement was a grand enterprise – a conspiracy hatched thousands of miles away in the United States – to overthrow British rule in India at the start of the First World War. However, the British learned about it and managed to suppress it. The Ghadar transformed the image of Punjab from a colonial heartland to a land of anti-imperialism. It also cast its shadow over subsequent politics in Punjab, leading to Jallianwala Bagh.
The novel also linked Jallianwala Bagh to the Akali movement, fought to liberate the gurdwaras of Punjab from the control of corrupt mahants. And, of course, a tiny but hugely significant thread from Jallianwala Bagh continues until June 1940, when Udham Singh, nurturing the fire of revenge in his bosom for 20 years, went to England and killed Michael O’Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab. at the time of the massacre. The story told in “Crimson Spring” thus acquires great significance and piquancy.
It is a historically accurate novel that told the great story of Jallianwala Bagh through the experiences of the common people of Amritsar caught in the whirlwind of great brutality perpetrated by the British.