No matter how many times you have heard it, the story of Jallianwala Bagh is terrifying. But when most of us first heard the story of the massacre, we weren’t mature enough to absorb the significance of what we were reading.
As schoolboys we were only allowed a casual and dinky relationship with our history text books. Jallianwala Bagh could pass as another tale of woe in chapter after chapter of bloody wars.
And it wasn’t until we were older and for many—let’s tell the truth here—watching the movie Gandhi—did the horror of it all come home.
My guest today is Navtej Sarna, author of Crimson Spring—in essence a book about the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, but one that is more history than novel. It is a literary work that describes a historical tragedy through the emotions of its protagonists.
While reading his book, it struck me that we don’t preserve and portray the horrors of history in any tangible form, say, like the holocaust museums; Auschwitz and other locations.
And then it occurred to me that the broad dissemination of Indian history is principally among school children. And that includes mythology. Even ones that include mature themes, such as the Mahabharata.
No wonder then that the authors who have given us history—whether as history or as novels of historical fiction—have become bestsellers. Think William Dalrymple with over a million Twitter followers, Ram Guha, Chitra Divakaruni, Navtej Sarna, and so many others.
There is a hunger for history. And no better time than the 75th year of Indian independence to tell these tales.
Crimson Spring is but another in an impressive list of books authored by Sarna. And among them the most compelling for me is his book on his literary travels: Second Thoughts subtitled, On Books, Authors and The Writerly Life.
Through trying to find the origins and the final resting places of the great writers, Sarna introduces us to that wonderful world. And packages the most important works of literature in an easily digestible form.
He is a diplomat—former Ambassador to the United States, Israel and former High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. And he joins us today from his home in New Delhi.
I am privileged to welcome Navtej Sarna to The Literary City.
ABOUT NAVTEJ SARNA
Navtej Sarna was India’s Ambassador to the United States, High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, and Ambassador to Israel. He has also served as Secretary to the Government of India and as the Foreign Office Spokesperson. His earlier diplomatic assignments were in Moscow, Warsaw, Thimphu, Tehran, Geneva, and Washington DC. His literary work includes the novels The Exile and We Weren’t Lovers Like That, the short story collection Winter Evenings, non-fiction works The Book of Nanak, Second Thoughts, and Indians at Herod’s Gate, as well as two translations, Zafarnama and Savage Harvest. He is a prolific columnist and commentator on foreign policy and literary matters, contributing regularly to media platforms in India and abroad. His latest book is Crimson Spring, on the Jallianwala Bagh massacre.
Buy Crimson Spring: https://amzn.to/3BUjMqt
Buy Second Thoughts: On Books, Authors and the Writerly Life: https://amzn.to/3JBqTpo
WHAT'S THAT WORD?!
Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in the segment "What's That Word?", where they discuss the phrase "Out damn spot!"
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