Roundabout: My Other Half – Telling tales of the storyteller from Sialkot

Urdu fiction writer Joginder Paul (1025-2016) gave a sensitive pen to Partition with memorable fiction such as Dera Baba Nanak and Sleepwalkers. His wife Krishna looks back at the man as she turns 90
Joiginder Paul with Krishna Paul together in their life’s journey.
Joiginder Paul with Krishna Paul together in their life’s journey.
Updated on Jul 04, 2020 11:07 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Chandigarh | ByNirupama Dutt

The greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves, or rather, loved in spite of ourselves. So said French writer Victor Hugo and this conveys a lot because to be a writer’s wife is not the easiest of things. For one, it means always coming second to his first love – writing. Yet she is to be the muse as well as the first reader, critic and much more. Perhaps, it is not so complicated to be a writer’s husband for an author making her way from second sex knows and accepts that she has to be her own support more often than not.

However, there have been women who have been immensely supportive in the writing careers of their partners and very often been their fans, loving the person first wedded to the pen, in spite of it all as Hugo puts it.

In the hands this weekend is a delightful, slim volume titled My Other Half by Red River Books in which Krishna Paul wife of Urdu fiction writer Joginder Paul, engages in conversations with Chandana Dutta. It is indeed a narrative that comes straight from the heart and leaves the reader enriched and elevated in this story of love and caring. Indeed, it is all about the past which is very much a part of the present.

The writer’s wife

Writer Chandana says: “The writer’s wife: Well, that’s what I thought of her when I began to read the works of Joginder Paul and plan projects around them. But over time I could not see her just as a writer’s wife, the fallback person.” The conversations with her revealed to Chandana that she was a person as much in command of her universe as was Joginder Paul, who was in command of the universe of his words. It was an amazing role that Krishna played in holding the fort all those years so that her husband could write uninterrupted. One endorses these thoughts and I have memories of meeting the Pauls long ago at their south Delhi home even before I had made an acquaintance with their daughter Sukrita, who is now a friend.

My first introduction to Joginder Paul was when he had come to participate in a literary event at Panjab University and city poet Kumar Vikal had heartily praised his stories. Years later I was to visit their home to take permission to translate Dera Baba Nanak, which is one of the most heartwarming stories of a humane gesture in the mad frenzy of the great divide. That one visit made me an insider as it used to be with the littérateurs of yore. It also gave me a chance to listen spellbound to the very adventurous vignettes of their lives.

The book cover
The book cover

Suitable boy in Ambala

In early 1948, Krishna’s parents decided that their daughter had passed her senior Cambridge with distinction in six subjects so it was time to discontinue studies and find a suitable boy and marry her off. Krishna always took glee in relating the consequences that led to her marrying Joginder and so also in this book. Krishna’s father was an unlettered but wealthy businessman in Nairobi, Kenya. On a mission of groom-hunting in Delhi, they received a proposal from Ambala. There a relative’s cousin took them around the place and in the father’s eye he became the suitable boy.

Krishna’s description of the meeting in Ambala is most readable in its comic sadness. Joginder has been uprooted from Sialkot with his family and they are staying in a shabby evacuee property. He is supporting the family by running a milk procuring and selling business from home although he is already a well published author. There the vow is made as Joginder tells her with a pinch of humour that he could not have turned her away as his mother believed in the old tradition of not turning away good luck and fortune that had come knocking their way. Krishna too loses her heart to this unusual young man who wears a pyjama and gobbles some half a dozen rotis sitting across the stove from his mother. “I somehow knew that here was someone who would let her continue with her studies. And so he did!”

Together they moved to Kenya, then to Aurangabad and finally their love nest in Delhi with Krishna being the first reader of his stories and also the Hindi translator. This is how love stories are made and this one is so engaging.

As author Chandana says: “ This seamless bend of time, both full of love and wit, makes life seem so worth its while!”

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Monday, January 24, 2022