Blood and Belief on the Soan: A Review of Nanak Singh’s Novel on the Partition

What makes Nanak Singh’s work important, interesting, and worthy of attention on this side of the border is not only the fact that he is a son of the soil who was also a witness to some of the horrific events of 20th-century Indian subcontinent such as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the partition of India (he died in the dying days of the creation of Bangladesh) but also that he was an ardent advocate of Punjabiyat, irrespective of the compulsions of faith, caste, class, and politics that were to drive a permanent wedge in the land of the five rivers in 1947.

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By Raza Naeem | The Quint | India |

Nanak Singh (1897 – 1971) needs no introduction among readers and admirers of Punjabi. He established himself over the Punjabi literary landscape in the 20th century with a staggering output of more than 50 novels, short fiction, poetic collections, plays, essays, and even translations.

It is remarkable that in addition to the many accolades he received throughout his life, he did not get a Nobel Prize in Literature, a distinction he shares with his fellow Punjabi behemoth Amrita Pritam!

Recognition has also eluded the father of the Punjabi novel in his native birthplace, Chak Hamid, now lying in Jhelum in the Soan valley in present-day Pakistan. Perhaps with this in mind, Singh’s grandson Navdeep Suri, a distinguished diplomat in his own right, began a rather belated but much-needed effort to translate his grandfather’s work into English.

What makes Nanak Singh’s work important, interesting, and worthy of attention on this side of the border is not only the fact that he is a son of the soil who was also a witness to some of the horrific events of 20th-century Indian subcontinent such as the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre and the partition of India (he died in the dying days of the creation of Bangladesh) but also that he was an ardent advocate of Punjabiyat, irrespective of the compulsions of faith, caste, class, and politics that were to drive a permanent wedge in the land of the five rivers in 1947.

The novel under review, Khoon De Sohile (translated as ‘Hymns In Blood’), takes its title from a verse of the Guru Granth Sahib written at the time of Mughal king Babur’s maiden attacks on India in the 16th century. However, the full import of the title only registers towards the conclusion of the novel.

What Pakistani readers will find interesting is that the novel is set in the Chakri village of the picturesque Soan valley of the Pothohar, an area which also provides material for that other distinguished literary son of Pothohar, the renowned Urdu writer Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi. However even before one gets to the novel itself, it is the highly polemical foreword to the novel by the author which grabs the attention of the potential reader.

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RELATED STORY:

A novel of Sikh lives during the Partition (Asia Samachar, 28 June 2020)

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