Saturday, 6 May 2017

"Foreword" to The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chottu Ram by Divyajyoti Singh

The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chottu Ram by Divyajyoti Singh (Authorspress, 2015)



Nibir K. Ghosh

When I received a request from the author to write the “Foreword” to this book, I was visibly intrigued. I hadn’t known much about the life and work of the legend the book celebrates. As I leafed through a few pages of the book, one thing that came to the fore was the passionate lyricism of the author in telling the tale of her forgotten hero. I was reminded of a statement made by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.: “Charm was a scheme for making strangers like and trust a person immediately, no matter what the charmer had in mind” (Breakfast of Champions). I was charmed, no doubt, by the hymns of praise that the author displayed for a revolutionary leader hailing from her own community, an icon of undivided Punjab. However, I felt a little diffident in undertaking the task as the persona in question appeared to be remotely located in my consciousness in terms of both space and time.

A bit of biographical research provided the impetus to share the author’s adulation for Sir Chhotu Ram. I learnt that the cult figure was, by profession, an advocate who had lived and studied Law at Agra. Knowing that Law was then taught only at Agra College, Agra, where I was educated and am now teaching, I tried to locate Sir Chhotu Ram in the annals of the college’s history. It was a pleasant experience to learn that he was an alumnus of this College, having taken his LL.B. degree from Agra College in the year 1911. As the Coordinator of Agra College Alumni Association, I thought it would be unfair to shy away from the labour of love that would associate me with a fellow-alumnus.

The book effortlessly glorifies the man and the legend. Mixing history and fiction, reality and imagination, memory and desire, lore and myth, it projects Sir Chhotu Ram as a veritable object of veneration especially for the poor and struggling farmers not only in undivided Punjab but also in the entire northern segment of British India. It was he alone who realized how farmers were relentlessly exploited by money lenders whom he referred to as merciless “Shylocks.” His legal expertise and astuteness are evident from the many landmark legislations he was instrumental in initiating during his consistent struggle to alleviate the sordid plight of farmers and the downtrodden people.

Many of us are familiar with Premchand’s short story, “Sawa Ser Gehu” where Shankar, a poor farmer, borrows sawa ser gehu (wheat) from a money-lender to feed a saint who comes to his house. Consequently, Shankar remains enslaved to the money-lender as a bonded labour. After him, the onus of repaying the debt is transferred to his son. At the end of the story, Premchand says that the reader ought not to dismiss the facts stated in the story as fiction for it was a projection of the grim reality that actually existed in the society of his time. If we fast-forward the situation depicted in Premchand’s story to our own contemporary times, the harsh reality of farmers committing suicide is bound to convince us that the predicament of farmers, to whom we owe our very existence, hasn’t changed much despite the passage of more than three quarters of a century.

The book lucidly recreates how, cutting across class, caste, communal and religious boundaries, Sir Chhotu Ram became the epitome of the struggle for a world where the farmer could live his life with courage and dignity instead of being a mere cog in the economic machine. The book venerates Sir Chhotu Ram as a revolutionary thinker and leader who pioneered an era of unprecedented changes in the socio-economic lives of Punjab farmers. It looks at him as an embodiment of secularism who fought communal politics till the very end of his life. He is portrayed as a visionary for whom setting the farmer free of social, economic and mental slavery always remained a top priority in his scheme of things. In the contemporary context, the author rightly points out how India needs today a man like him to counter powerful moneylenders like “the IMF, the World Bank, and individual donor countries.” His life amply demonstrates how features of character are carved out of adversity. Endowed with a fiery scientific temperament, he was above religious or communal bias: “If the Hindu peasants called him “Ram,” the Muslims considered him a “Pir.” According to a folklore cited in the book,

“In temples they sing of Radha and Shyam

In fields you hear the name of Chhotu Ram!”

It is passing strange that a man of action who constantly strove to transform his vision and mission into attainable realities, a spirited leader who lived in the hearts of millions on account of his dedication to the common cause, has been relegated from the exalted position of historical body text to a passing footnote in contemporary history. I remember having come across a newspaper report stating that during the academic session 2004-05, an inspirational lesson on the Deenbandhu Sir Chhotu Ram prescribed in the Class V curriculum of government schools in Haryana had been unceremoniously withdrawn. After such knowledge what forgiveness!

I congratulate Dr. Divyajyoti Singh for celebrating, through this comprehensive quasi-fictional narrative, the precious life blood of a noble soul that resonated with the agony and anguish of the tillers of the soil. Since there is acute dearth of material on Sir Chhotu Ram, the book is bound to motivate truth-seekers to follow the trail of his footprints that appear to have been obscured by the ebb and flow of time. It is quite likely that the lore of the “forgotten  Ram” may inspire young leaders to move beyond vote bank politics to champion the cause of labourers and the peasantry to create a sublime world where nightmarish realities of “Sawa Ser Gehu” are rendered anachronistic or redundant.

About the Book


About the Book

The Forgotten Ram: Lore and Legend of Sir Chhotu Ram is a quasi-fictional biography centered on the stalwart peasant leader Chaudhary Chhotu Ram. It is woven out of folklore and oral narratives gathered about him. The book includes about twenty- two chapters spanning his life that illustrate a watershed time in the history of undivided Punjab. The text blends narrative, dialogue, sketches and commentary to imaginatively reconstruct the rural life of Punjab in 1900s. It also illustrates the political scene of the day where Chhotu Ram’s Unionist Party came with a thumping majority, changing the established equation between the farmer and the Raj forever. Though an eminent part of the lore in Haryana, Chhotu Ram has been relegated from mainstream historical accounts. His radical thoughts, rare agenda and the agrarian renaissance he ushered, however, demand to be chronicled.
For Chhotu Ram, reforms could have a lasting character, only if the farmer changed too. He brought in momentous legislations monitoring the economic and social life of the day. He was unfazed by serious and offensive opposition that tried to stall his programme. Furthermore, he urged the farmer to assume the role of a forerunner rather than a mere follower in the freedom movement. His arch-antagonist was not a person but the system of ‘compound interest’ that fleeced the farmer, but there was also Jinnah on the horizon slowly closing-in. Chhotu Ram perceived his destructive potential and undertook a blitzkrieg march from Peshawar to Hodal that should have concluded in a grand rally at Lyallpur (Faizlabad, in current Pakistan), had he lived. The fate took an unfortunate turn and after Chhotu Ram’s death due to high fever and fatigue, Jinnah was able to make a rapid headway in Punjab politics, breaking the secular bond that Chhotu Ram, Mian Fazli Hussain, Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan, and Khizr Hayat Khan had built dedicatedly over decades. 

- Dr. Divyajyoti Singh teaches English at the YMCA University of Science & Technology, Haryana.

In 2008 and 2014 two plays written by her on the life of the ‘Deenbandhu’ were also performed by student amateurs from Nehru College, Faridabad and YMCA University, Faridabad. She runs a blog on Sir Chhotu Ram: and is an ardent admirer of the great man. This book is her dream project.

1 comment:

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