When WW1 broke out, this part of the world, which was then referred to as the Indian Subcontinent was under the British rule. There were major campaigns for recruits to fight in the war under the union jack, and locally amongst these huge motivational campaigns there were some very famous inspirational songs.
Some song lyrics would say things like ‘here you don’t have food, when you go abroad you will get fruits,’ or ‘here you don’t have clothing, there you will receive suits,’ and so on.
“Bharti hoo ja vay bahr khadday rangroot,
ithay khawin sukhiyan rotian, uthay khawin fruit,
ithay pawin phatay leeray, uthay pawin suit,
ithay pawin tutti jutti, uthay pawin boot”
“The recruits are at your door step,
here you eat dried roti(bread) there you will eat fruit,
here you are in rags, there you’ll wear a suit.
here you wear worn out shoes there you will wear boots”
Many thousands of young men fell for these promises only to find nothing but death and loss, nothing could have prepared them for what they witnessed. When these brave men would write back to their loved ones to let them know of the truth, to warn others, or to just let them know how they were, their letters would be censored to a degree that no one would ever find out what was happening. Many died aimlessly thinking that their families knew what was happening.
This work is about a young girl who lived in a small rural village of Punjab. Her lover has been at war and one day she received a letter from him. Ecstatic at receiving the letter which meant he was still alive and terrified since half of it is was censored and the other half seemed to be just broken words. Since she could neither read nor write she hopelessly kept waiting for him to come back. Days turned to months and when she could take it no more, she went to see a village, letter-writer who were very common in those days since many were uneducated. She tells him to write for her, to tell her lover of how she is lost, of how her soul cries for him, of how she could do anything just to see him, to hold him or just to know of him. And all that time, deep down inside she knows, those are merely words… how could they possibly explain her pain. When she is almost done, she suddenly stops. She realizes she doesn’t even know where to send that letter since she has no address.
This letter, she then takes with her and keeps it safe. For her this is the only possible interaction she can have. She keeps the letter near her heart, she takes it out and adorns it, she stuffs it in her pockets, she crumples it in frustration, then suddenly, she straightens it out again, beautifies it again. She just doesn’t know where he is…
Like the millions of unanswered mothers, daughters and wives of that time this young girl is helpless. She in this work has come alive through the life of ‘Jugni’.
‘Jugni’ was a popular myth in Punjab. This was a character. It is not real and nor is it derived from one person. Its myth is a woman who likes to talk and tell stories. These were true stories that no wanted or dared to tell or be associated with. This character evolved within the folk singers of the region. They would talk about social and political issues and some times just ramblings of village events. They did not want to say that it was them saying all this as they did not want to take credit for their views so the songs or stories were sung/told as “Jugni said… and Jugni heard… and Jugni knows…”
Jugni as a person has seen a lot of history. She has seen the ages go by, and how the world has changed. Different Jugni songs have been sung and some documented too. Here Jugni is that scared young girl. She wants to say so much, she wants to hear so much, but there is nothing in the letter to satisfy her and there is no destination to hear her heartbreaking sorrow. Unfortunately, I am that desolate letter-writer.