Former premier of British Columbia Ujjal Dosanjh writes that he was born in the dusty village of Dosanjh Kalan near Jalandhar on October 14, 1946, just 10 months before Independence and the Partition of India, thus he could well be considered a midnight’s child a la Salman Rushdie.
He begins such and goes on to tell the story of a rare achievement and conviction in his autobiography, ‘Journey After Midnight’, that is scheduled to be launched at the Press Club in Chandigarh on Tuesday afternoon.
At 18, Dosanjh migrated from India first to the UK and then to Canada, making crayons and working in a saw mill. He studied political science, obtained a degree in law and in 2000-01, he was the first person of Indian origin to lead a government in the western world when he was elected Premier and later a Liberal Party member of the Canadian Parliament (2004-11).
A liberal and uniquely moderate Sikh in Vancouver, he earned the ire of Khalistani separatists and was assaulted on the way to his office in 1985. He received 80 stitches on the head and a broken arm. He narrowly escaped becoming a victim of the bombing of Air India Flight IC 182, Kanishka, that year. But he remained steadfast in his views and continued to seek justice for the vulnerable, including immigrant women and minority groups.
“Telling my story does not seem important in the larger scheme of things. But our own stories always matter to us, and to the generations that follow. Merging with the stories of so many others, they give meaning to our lives and to the lives of nations,” he says.
The autobiography has been lauded by writers and artistes. Author Shashi Tharoor calls it “a remarkable and authentic memoir that is insightful and inspiring”.
For filmmaker Deepa Mehta, reading the book was a moving experience and she says: “One sure path to a saner world is to continue telling stories about ourselves to reach ‘the other’, realising that in the particular lies the universal.”
As a writer, Dosanjh captures brilliantly his childhood and youth in pre-Green Revolution Punjab, even though times were hard for the agrarian community that he belonged to. He then moves on to tell the story of his struggle in the UK and coming of age in Canada.
Looking back with love, he says: “Together, these three countries have given me a life filled with more victories than defeats, more joys than sorrows. The world has done much to help make me a better man, and some may say I haven’t done too badly.”
His strength has been a Punjabi adage, which his freedom fighter father, Master Pritam Singh Dosanjh, used to repeat often: ‘Ik pair ghat turna par turna matak de naal (One may walk a step in life, but one must always walk with dignity)’.