‘WHAT MATTERS IS WHAT’S WRITTEN’

The late Urdu author Joginder Paul lived a long and creative life. Chaman Lal Chaman recalls a gifted storyteller and beloved friend

Despite having lived in London for over three decades, I still miss Nairobi – not just for its temperate climate, evergreen shrubs and wildlife on the doorstep, but also for the many loving friendships that made our social and cultural life so rich. Among those friends was Joginder Paul, who passed away in Delhi on April 22 at the age of 90.

Paul was an amiable character and a great friend. He worked as a teacher of English at Nairobi’s famous Gloucester School and took early retirement to go and settle in India as a full-time writer, a dream he had chased for a number of years. However, circumstances later led him to take the post of principal at a college in Aurangabad.

His story of migration started in his birthplace of Sialkot in Pakistan and continued until he settled in Delhi in 1978. Since then, I have visited Delhi every two or three years and meeting Joginder Paul was a sort of cultural pilgrimage for me. He lived and breathed fiction. Whenever I went to see him, he would hug me warmly and tell me about the stories he had written since my previous visit.

I first listened to them around 1952 at Nairobi Radio, which I joined in 1956. I was assigned to supervise the recording of his stories, for which he was paid a fee of three guineas. Once, in the newly built Broadcasting House during the early 1960s, he asked me to record ten of his tales in one session. I told him it couldn’t be done but he insisted, saying that he was going to India on long leave and needed money for his passage. In the end, Paul prevailed and he recorded those ten stories in one go – a marathon session that is still fresh in my memory.

During a visit to Delhi last December, I wondered if he was the same Joginder Paul, endowed with Saraswati – goddess of fine arts. He looked withered by age, though he still had a spark in his eyes. Was this the same man who had penned memorable gems of Urdu literature such as Dharti Ka Kaal, Khodu Baba Ka Muqbra, Katah Nagar, Khwabrrau, Nadeed, Katha Nagar and Parindey? The same one who had written Joginder Paul Ke Shahkaar Afsane – the greatest short stories of Joginder Paul – and over 40 other titles?

Joginder Paul’s stories appeared in leading magazines across India and Pakistan, such as Afkaar, Naqoosh, Auraq and Adb-e-Lateef Shaaer. He appeared on the horizon of Urdu fiction when Krishan Chander, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadan Hassan Manto, Intezaar Hussain and Gulam Abbas were its shining stars. Krishan Chander admired Paul’s style of writing, his unravelling of the mysteries and miseries of Africa which resulted in the publication of his first book of short stories about Kenya and its people.

I don’t know exactly how many books Paul wrote, but I reckon it must be 50 or more. When I asked him once, he smiled in typical Dilip Kumar style – in his younger days, Paul bore a resemblance to the actor – and said that the number did not matter. ‘What matters is what’s written.’

Some of his works have been translated into English, including Khwabrau (Sleepwalkers), and Paar Pare (Blackwaters). His daughter Sukrita Paul Kumar, a research scholar and poet, has translated Nadeed (English title Blind), published by Harper Collins.

But the true picture of Joginder Paul as a writer and a man will remain incomplete until you have read his wife Krishna’s Main Hi Janoo Only As I Knew Him.

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