Translating something like ‘Khooni Baisakhi’ becomes really personal: Navdeep Suri on his grandfather’s ballad on Jallianwala Bagh

New Delhi: Saturday marks the 100th year of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre where General Dyer sprayed bullets on Indians who had been gathered to peacefully celebrate Baisakhi in 1919. It seems the wounds might have healed but some scars remain.

Indian Diplomat Navdeep Suri has translated the book ‘Khooni Baisakhi’ which his grandfather, a survivor of the bloodshed, wrote in 1920. “I was born just a stone’s throw away from the Jallianwala Bagh and my grandfather was present there in the Bagh when the massacre happened… So obviously when you embark on translating something like this and doing the research on it, it becomes really personal to you,” Suri told ANI.

Suri’s grandfather Nanak Singh had gone to Jallianwala Bagh with two of his friends but returned alone as the friends fell to the bullets and the ensuing stampede. He lived on to pour his heart out in the form of “Khooni Baisakhi” that saw several ups and downs before seeing the light of the day. It was first published in May 1920, nearly a year after the tragedy but was banned by the British Raj and confiscated. It was then lost for the next 60 years until Suri took it up and translated it.

The book is based on ballad which is a narration of the massacre by the diplomat’s grandfather.

But giving a mental closure to one of the deadliest incidents of mass murders within seconds was not easy. “…The trauma is so large that one who has suffered just wants to close up and not speak about it,” he said.

Talking next about the closure on the heinous incident, Suri said: “I think we look at it differently, my grandfather had closed that window in his mind and he hardly ever spoke about it; he only made one passing reference to Khooni Baisakhi in his autobiography ‘Meri Duniya’ which was published in 1949.”

“Whatever we know about this is just oral history in the family; my grandmother telling stories about it, and my uncles and my father knew about it. In terms of closure you speak about, there was already a closure as we never spoke about it,” he added.

Finally, he said, somewhere the trauma of this incident got a little lost between the sorrows of the partition. “Bauji was 22 when this happened. In the ensuing 50 years of his life perhaps the trauma of partition left an even greater mark on him as he wrote three powerful books on the partition,” he said.

The massacre took place on 13 April 1919 when troops of the British Indian Army under the command of General Reginald Dyer fired machine guns into a crowd of unarmed protesters and pilgrims who had gathered in Jallianwala Bagh in Punjab’s Amritsar on the occasion of Baisakhi.

The crowd had assembled peacefully at the venue to condemn the arrest of two national leaders — Satya Pal and Saifuddin Kitchlew — when they were fired at indiscriminately by General Dyer and his men.