He was born to a poor family in Ghugiana village with his father running a small shop in the village in the area where agricultural labourers lived. The family had a meagre income, as Punjabi writer Ninder Ghugianvi, recalls, “We used to sell onions and potatoes at Rs 1 and salt and turmeric at 25 paise to daily wagers.”
So, when he got a chance to get the post of an orderly in the Punjab Judicial Service there was jubilation at home for he was the first person from the family to be placed in the government.
What followed was so humiliating that it led him to write his memoirs called ‘Main saan judge da ardali’ in 2001. The book was an overnight success and has since gone into eight editions.
It has also been translated into Hindi, Urdu, Telugu and transcribed into Shahmukhi in Pakistan. It has been well-received in other languages too. It has also been made into a tele-film with Ninder playing the hero and a radio feature has also been done on it.
At 37, Ninder is a popular people’s writer, broadcaster and performer sought after by the readers of Punjabi both home and abroad.
How did this slim volume of 150 pages become so popular?
“The book was an instant success because it was the first memoir written by a Class-4 government employee who made no bones about telling the way he was treated,” says Ninder.
In times when voices are being raised to do away with the colonial legacy of the batman or orderly in armed forces or civilian services, this book becomes an interesting document — putting in black and what an orderly is all about.
While drawing a salary from the government, an orderly is virtually a slave to the officer doing all the chores at his home: washing, cleaning, cooking, gardening, taking care of the children and getting a thrashing if he fails to carry out an order.
In this case, the slave had to sing and perform the songs of his mentor, the legendary singer Yamla Jat, playing the toombi (one-string instrument) as the judge has his evening date with Bachchus. What baffles the performer is when the judge himself wants to sing ‘Tootak tootak tootian’ and orders the orderly to play the toombi to it!
Ninder’s plea that pop and folk don’t mix is of no avail for it is a judge’s judgment.
What makes this volume so charming is the writer’s sense of the absurd and he excels in highlighting the comic as did yesteryear comedian Jerry Lewis in a film called ‘The Disorderly Orderly’.
It is bathos rather than pathos that is Ninder’s strength. Well-known Punjabi poet Surjit Patar says thus of Ninder’s writing: “Whenever I read his prose, I am touched by his boldness, innocence and sense of humour. His memoir is so popular for here is a ‘nobody’ holding a mirror to the follies of those who think they are ‘somebody’!”
In time, Ninder quits the judicial service at the Sessions Court in Faridkot and works another couple of years as a peon in the Punjab Languages Department at Patiala. Today, he is an author of some 40-odd books, including books on folk singers of Punjabi; at 14, he had dropped out of school to be a disciple to Yamla Jat. He is also a popular columnist in Punjabi papers and a broadcaster for a Canadian radio. He has also been invited to Canada, Australia and New Zealand on invitations by the Punjabi community there. He is also busy delivering lectures and doing radio and television features Well ‘Toombi’, as a judge nicknamed him, has played out well in life, even if he has played differently.
(E-mail the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org)