“The DNA finds its roots, and when I stepped into Pakistan in October 2014, where I have never been, I felt an instant connect, a feeling of home. This book just happened, maybe from a deep-rooted desire to build a bond with my ancestors. I operated with no mind, but let things evolve,’’ said Amardeep Singh, author of Lost Heritage, the Sikh Legacy in Pakistan, which was released here on Tuesday.
During a month-long journey across West Punjab, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, an invisible force was supporting Singh’s pursuit. “I had entered the country with just a desire and faith, but as I connected with like-minded people, all came together to help,” he said.
Singh’s search, while focused primarily on discovering the state of Sikh legacy, more than 36 places, also incorporated Hindu and Muslim aspects that had association with the Sikhs. The scope of exploration encompassed the community’s cultural, social, philosophical and martial aspects between 15th and 21st century. The book, which is replete with stunning photographs by Singh, is a legacy of a community and remains of a heritage. What Singh does is he captures the human and emotional stories behind this heritage and discovers that the boundaries are false, and the hate and mistrust has been created only by politicians. “Love and affection is all that I got, and that’s what people back there hunger for,” added Singh.
On return to Singapore, as Amardeep was revisiting the 19th century travelogues of the Europeans who had then travelled across the Sikh empire, he wondered whether he too should document his experiences.
“Could this work serve as a window for future generations to comprehend some aspects of our heritage that will soon cease to exist,” he said.
Seven decades after the Partition of 1947, the Sikh community continues to yearn to experience its glorious heritage abandoned across Pakistan. For those fortunate few able to visit the country, they remain confined to a handful of functional gurdwaras. “A hundred years from now, none of these places will exist. Many of them have fallen apart and won’t last for too long. I wondered if I don’t document it, who’s going to do it?”
Singh grew up with stories of massacres, of how we had fought and all the issues that resulted, with his parents, who were Sikhs living in Pakistan at the time, migrating to UP in the mass migration. Stories of the pristine beauty of the land that Singh heard from his father, extensive research and reading on the history, geography and social conditions of the sub-continent, said Singh, made a lasting impact on him, and made this journey and book possible.
“Would the heritage of the land where Sikhism was born and the Sikhs had created an empire have been limited to just a few functional gurdwaras? What about the magnificence of the scores of historic monuments, forts, battlegrounds, places of worship, commercial and residential establishments and art associated with the community?” asked Singh, who quit his corporate job to write the book.
Temples, mansions, forts, gurdwaras, homes — Singh captures the architecture, legacy, history and stories of these buildings, as he talks about the creative and artistic aspects of the monuments, including a Sikh temple in the Mansehra region, now a library, with its walls lined with books.
“Like here in Punjab, where we have destroyed our heritage and monuments, with half-hearted restoration work and negligible preservation, there too, many buildings are abandoned, crumbling and others occupied by hundreds of poor families,” he said.
A wall of an old temple, now used as a storehouse, has a scribbling on it, “I lost my everything”. Many copies of the book, which Singh had sent by post to people who helped in the project back in Pakistan, have yet to reach them. “It’s sad that even books can’t cross borders. I hope that this book touches people, and brings us together. Both the government and people must wake up and do our bit to preserve our heritage structures, our wealth. Development must be done outside buildings, not inside them. We must adopt monuments and protect them,” said Singh, hoping that the book would be a record of Sikh heritage for future generations.