It was rather late in life that I learned the virtue of meeting new people to keep whiffs of fresh air blowing into the stuffy calling of a scribe. In younger days, it seemed enough to know three poets, two painters, one humorist, and half an intellectual to keep producing predictable prose year after year.
Well, age brings some wisdom, if nothing else. Recently on a rare day, when there were no personal and professional chores on hand, I responded to a message on the SMS by one Paramjeet Singh, who wanted to meet me to talk of books. So a tête-à-tête was fixed in a coffee shop in Sector 8; but when I read the message a second time, I was puzzled to note that the blind date was with the income tax commissioner from Mumbai.
For a moment, I thought of chickening out but then I told myself that with my kind of trivial income, there was no point worrying. The encounter with the commissioner and his comely colleague turned out to be interesting, as they came with notebooks, lists of books, and a few books in hand, too.
Here was a person on a literary mission, determined to bring out a volume on ‘The 100 Must Read Works of Punjabi Authors’, and I was expected to fill in some gaps. I did what I could but it was the person behind the project who interested me more.
Paramjeet belongs to a family that migrated from Sargodha Sahiwal in Pakistan’s Punjab at the time of Partition and settled in Lucknow. Studying hard to qualify the competitive examinations and build a career, he picked up the love of books early. “Love for literature is something that I got it from my mother, an avid reader of Hindi and Punjabi books.
Like her, I also became a voracious reader, reading almost everything I could lay my hands on, be it thrillers or classics or even magazines such as Reader’s Digest or The Sikh Review,” he says. What led him to take up this project? The literature lover’s reply is: “Few good translations from Punjabi are found, so an average Indian reader never comes across Punjabi literature and even Punjabis, too, miss out on reading books by our greats. It is then that I decided to do something about it.”
So far, he has compiled 85 books from Punjabi, including a few from across the border. Lest the numbers be lacking, he has also kept a list of 75 books written by Punjabis in English. Well that is a good yield, for when I shared this project with my cynical friend, Punjabi poet Amarjit Chandan based in London, he replied: “A tall order! I’d struggle to find even 10 best Punjabi books”. We, Punjabis love to run ourselves down and more so if we have an international perspective.
Anyway, Paramjeet is enjoying the project that he has assigned himself; and says: “My favourites in translations, so far, have been Ram Swarup Ankhi, Paash, Harbhajan Singh, Sant Singh Shekhon and Lal Singh Dil, apart from masters such as Gurdial Singh, Daleep Kaur Tiwana, Nanak Singh, and Amrita Pritam.”
The volume that should be ready in a few months would have an approximately 500-word gist of each book’s story and a 250-word article on its author. It will also have a Read-on list with some suggested books on the same topic and details of a book being translated and whether any movie or play has been based on it. Bravo! Paramjeet a hearty cheers with a cup of Cappuccino. Now this also something age does to you. A cup of coffee is enough to give you a high.