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“The bullets of Jallianwala Bagh” by Purvai Aranya


It was the day of Baisakhi. The harvest had been decent, but this was not how I would like to celebrate a normal Baisakhi day. But, then again, what in our life was normal anymore?

Since these Firangis entered into Hindustan they took our wealth, our people and our dignity. And now it was time for us to fight back. How much time could we bear the insults any longer? We, in Amritsar, had been hearing so much about the people in India fighting the British.

It was just a matter of time before we Sikhs took a stand. As much as it went against our desire, we couldn’t fight them. Not yet. These rascals had to be fought with strategy, focus and strength of numbers, not with love as the Mahatma willed us to do, or even brawn, like we wanted to. So we had to go step by step, for we couldn’t take a chance. This was about our life, our family and our country.

But now they had crossed all limits. I heard about it from the old gossips under the large Peepal tree. Something called The Rowlatt Act. Now these Firangis were giving themselves the power to just eliminate us- kill us or imprison us- without even a trial. So we decided. On the day of Baisakhi, the thirteenth of April, we too would take a stand.

On the day of Baisakhi, I woke at 4 in the morning, to pray that this day makes a change. I went to the Gurdwara early and even went to the temple with the daily crowd. I took no afternoon nap and by 3 I was wearing my most expensive kurta and my turban was neat and well made. Then I sat on the verandah and waited. My wife and 3 children were ready. As I waited, I got a slight twinge and wondered if it was safe enough to take them. I asked them again and again, but they were adamant. After all, it was going to bring a change to Amritsar, and besides, the neighbors children and wife were going, so why couldn’t they? I couldn’t argue with that, so I agreed.

The streets were full and people were walking proudly on the crumbling streets, all heading to the Jallianwala Bagh, the place to be today. My family reached and I took my place near the makeshift stage while the children ran around and my wife sat gossiping with her sister. Before the speeches started, I crept up on stage just to look around. The sheer amount of people all around just shocked me. Every one of them was a different, unique person, but they all blended in to form a huge crowd, united and courageous. Looking at all these people, full of hope for the future, filled my heart with a giddy joy and sense of pride.

Then the speeches started. I walked slowly down the stage and seated myself. The speeches touched me even more, beautifully written and wonderfully spoken. Soon I was feeling such love for my country, that I could have sacrificed my self without a second thought today, just for my nation.

How was I to know, I really would have to do that, and for no fault of mine.

Before we could take in what was happening, gunshots were heard. The woman next to me shrieked in agony as a terrible bullet hit her spot on the heart. A slow terror filled over me and I could feel nothing more. It was if the world was stopping, as I saw the tanks and the soldiers positioned along the sides of the Jallianwala Bagh, and I could hear only muffled voices and sounds, as gunshots zoomed near a hairs breadth of me.

Then I got slight more control over myself and I turned round immediately and looked for my wife of ten years, Sarla, as well as my children. That was when I saw the true extent of what was going on, and instead of the slow, vile feeling seeping down my back, now I felt real, quick, blinding terror. People were being killed, no, murdered all around. The gunshots were flying high and dry and I saw tens of people throwing themselves in the tiny well to save their miserable skins.

I saw my youngest son, Soham, fallen on the ground, a small trickle of blood seeping down his forehead, his unseeing eyes staring into space. I guess that was what jolted me into reality. Till then, I had been seeing the tyranny around me in a detached manner, as a third person. Now I really looked and then ran, picked up Soham gently and then saw the deep wound on his scalp. I hugged him wordlessly and my tears mixed with his blood. I was confused, agitated, and unsure of myself. I suddenly felt like a three-year-old again, completely helpless, while my family was being murdered in cold blood right under my nose. My eyesight was blurry and my hands were full of blood. I took Soham and ran. I just ran, with nowhere to go, as if I could flee from this terror.

Then I glanced towards the well. My son slipped from my arms and I barely noticed, as I saw my wife, Sarla hold our tiny daughter and prepare herself to jump down the well, with barely a chance to survive or even be found again. Her face was wet with tears and her hands were bloody, like mine. That was when I gave up. Sarla was the bravest person I knew, or would ever know. If she gave up, I had no chance in this mess. If I did survive from here, I wouldn’t be able to live a full life without her or the kids, ever again.

So I gave up. I walked slowly and silently, unlike the hordes screaming bloody murder around me, not that the analogy was incorrect here. I reached the very middle of the field, where I could see the British soldiers along the walls, with their tanks and ammo and equipment to make sure we all died. I wondered what had we done now? A few people gather and talk, no this was a crime? I pitied myself a lot right there, but I pitied my wonderful country even more. They were murdering India. They were poisoning her, slowly but steadily.

I could hear my heart beating. I looked around, wondering, from which direction would the deadly bullet come? Would it strike me dead straight away, or would I be made to suffer even more? Sure enough the bullet, whizzing past the heads of so many, came. It could have hit me in the head and ended this now-miserable existence, but so afraid of the end was I, that I dodged it easily, and the woman behind me was shot to the ground.

I felt deep disgust for myself just then. With nothing to live for, why was I dodging death?

I took a deep breath and walked slowly to the well, hoping that a bullet would hit me halfway and I wouldn’t have to go to such heights just to kill myself, but, as my luck would have had it, I walked the whole length of my beloved Jallianwala Bagh, seeing the lives being taken all around, without a bullet coming anywhere near me. Then I reached the well. I was angry and I was sad, and more upset than I had ever been, not a brilliant combination for the time when I had to make the decision of my life. Adrenalin was pumping through my veins, giving me no time for wise thought.

I went through my options. Simple enough. One, die. Two, live an empty life. The only problem was deciding which was worse. Then I heard a shrill scream. My other daughter was shot to the ground, clutching her neck where the bullet was embedded. I took my decision in a split second then.

I had to tackle with the tens of people who took the same decision just to get close to the well. Then I looked down, which was obviously a bad step. I could see the mangled bodies, nameless and unrecognizable, stuffed down the well like rag dolls. My throat was constricted and my head was throbbing, but I couldn’t wait any longer for the longest jump of my life. I took a step forward, all the while thinking, what was it about these people that they could take over us so easily and utterly?

What was it about us Indians that we could give in without a fight; let these foreigners take over us like we were puppets? If some idiots came together and somehow did put up a fight, then our lack of unity sealed our violent defeat. I could only hope that in the future, there would be more like Gandhi, whom I had heard wonderful things about. I could only hope that our children would take this country where it deserved to go. I could only hope that one day we would be able to fight off imperial rule and live for ourselves and each other. I could only hope…

As I took the last step toward my destiny, pain and a sense of despair and anger suffocating me, I silently prayed to God for India, to let her take control of herself once again. I murmured words of many jumbled prayers and beseeched Him endlessly.

God, oh please, it’s too late for me now, but don’t let it be so for them all. I saw my wife and children dying; please don’t let them all suffer like us. We were at the wrong place at the wrong time, doing the right thing, but no matter, protect the rest. We were here because we loved India, what wrong did we do? There are going to be so many like us, trying to free India from tyranny and hate, for I trust you enough that we will not lose hope. Just bless me through my agony, and bless India forever. That is all I ask of you. Never let the spirit of India die, like you let so many of us die here.

My prayers done, I looked no more. I ran and I jumped, and was soon stifled under the bodies of so many more, and soon I could see nothing but darkness. It was over for me, already. I could just hope India would last longer than me.

(Written by Purvai Aranya on Tuesday, 2 February 2010)


 Article by Purvai Aranya

Copyright Purvai Aranya

Photo by K.J.S.Chatrath

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One Response to ““The bullets of Jallianwala Bagh” by Purvai Aranya”

  1. Madhukar says:

    So much sadness. So much to be angry about. And then our PM goes to UK says how they had a civilising influence on us.

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