On 1 December 2019 Krishna Paul turned 90. I had been interacting with her for a while by then, not only basking in her love and warmth, but having long heartfelt conversations with this amazing woman who shared Joginder Paul with us. A couple of months before her mother’s birthday, on a sudden impulse, the Pauls’ daughter, Sukrita, wondered aloud to me if I could turn the long interviews that I had recorded into a book. It could be a wonderful surprise gift for her. It was an idea I jumped at; what was stopping me? Excerpted below are some passages from my book of conversations with Krishna Paul

 

 

Krishna Paul is the writer Joginder Paul’s wife. The writer’s wife! Well, that was how I thought of her when I began to read up Paul’s works and planning projects around them. She was the person I turned to almost immediately in order to better understand the writer. The writer’s wife? Though this appellation didn’t quite bother me at the beginning, it began to as I continued to meet her regularly. And then suddenly I couldn’t quite see her only as a writer’s wife, the fallback person. She was a person as much in command of herself and her universe as was Joginder Paul, in command of his universe of words.

 **

    Here was a witty and charming woman, who took the reins of her life in her own hands. She decided who she wanted to make her life with, and journeyed across continents, as well as across India to shield the man she loved. She took over all the mundane chores of running a household and bringing up children not only in order to free her husband to be able to write but also at the cost of her own passion for music and theatre. She travelled every bit of the way in step with him.

**

    She began sharing generously about her life with what seemed like a devotee’s keenness. But then her roles kept changing, from one of a young love turned wife turned muse to a soulmate to a keeper of all things Joginder Paul. By this time I was soaking in as much as I could about her journey. My focus, which had been on Joginder Paul the man behind the writer, gradually expanded to this woman behind the storyteller. Who was she really? Surely she must have set aside much of herself in order to let us all revel in the world of Joginder Paul. What must she have thought of her husband’s journey from being an ordinary man to the Joginder Paul we all know and admire? After all, a writer as powerful as him may have also been as much a force within the home as outside. How did she see his transition, from when she first met him to what he has come to mean to all of us today? My conversations became as much about Krishna Paul as about her husband.

 **

     It was on their suhagraat or ‘the first night’ while sitting in the railway waiting room to leave for Ambala after their wedding, that Joginder Paul was ‘revealed’ to his new bride. Krishna Paul, used to a conservative way of life, was astonished when her young groom openly let his side of the family know he wished to spend some ‘alone’ time with his wife, no matter how dark it had become and no matter how strange the setting was for such a romantic interlude. Now when she looks back she can still as easily see those images again. Their romance that began then, she says now, had his stories, the kahanis, as their core. He dispelled her filmi notions of a petal-laden fragrant atmosphere, all softly lit up, with his train coach in a train yard, with only a torch for company, trying to tell her about his stories.

**

    What would have prompted such a woman, educated, beautiful and attractive, and from such an affluent background, to agree to marry a person who appeared to be so different from what she stood for? Was he already a celebrated writer when she first met him? Krishna Paul says all she hoped for with her heart was to be allowed to study further, and the man who agreed to this would be the man for her. For her to study further would mean freedom, where her mind could journey freely. Of course, when she begins the story of her life, I realise that destiny did grant her what she wished for; perhaps the trajectory wasn’t quite what she had imagined it would be. A false note led to true love, and as the Pauls journeyed through their lives together, they both ultimately immersed themselves in the world of words and books, of creativity and imagination.

     In fact I became extremely eager to know how they met and how the marriage came about. I ask her pointedly if she agreed to marry a man who already harboured ambitions of being a writer, or who considered himself one, at least in his own mind. She says she had married an ordinary man. He had come from Pakistan with his family. They were refugees. They were very poor and to help the household run, Paul would cycle around the town of Ambala, clad in his shabby clothes, collecting and selling milk. When she first heard of him, and subsequently met him, it was by complete coincidence and under extremely dramatic circumstances.

    The Nagpals were a well-off business family. Her father, originally from Quetta, had lost his entire family in a massive earthquake in that area. An orphan, he found himself somehow in Rawalpindi and then was picked up at the age of 14 by some British company to be transported to Mombasa as indentured labour to lay down railway lines in the colony. Miserable with his situation, he ran away one night and finally arrived in Nairobi. By sheer dint of hard work, he made his way up to become one of the richest businessmen there. Uncannily, years later, he ran into his younger brother in Nairobi, one he had presumed dead. His brother was now married to a black East African woman. This was not something Krishna’s conservative father could accept and he snapped all connections with his sibling.

    Krishna was visiting India from Nairobi, Kenya, with her parents. Like many other Indian families, they had come on a groom-hunt. This was a common practice those days. Wealthy Indians would come ‘home’ to India to find suitable matches for their daughters and carry off willing young men to settle there. There were also a large number of refugee boys in India who, having lost everything in the Partition, were keen to get out of the country, if only to somehow settle down. The British authorities in Kenya were well aware of how difficult it was for Indian girls, born and brought up in the pleasant climes and locales of Nairobi, to adjust to the heat and dust of India. They had, therefore, eased the immigration rules to allow this movement back and forth.

    A matrimonial advertisement had been placed in the newspapers and hundreds of responses received. The ‘candidates’ were all willing to move to Nairobi. In addition to the lure of a better life than the shattered one that faced them in India, Nairobi was a beautiful place. Geographically, it was just two degrees south of the equator and at a height of 5,600 feet. It was also a plateau, with pleasant days and nights, where the climate was salubrious through the year.

     Krishna’s father did not know how to read or write. So, not only did she read out the responses to the advertisement to him, she also decided which ones to reject. Among the many letters was one from Ambala Cantonment from a certain professor in a local college whose only request was the girl should be educated. Krishna agreed promptly to meet this man. After all, her only wish had been that if they were so determined to get her married off, her parents find someone who would let her study further. Her father though was still hesitant about making this trip since Ambala was a city he knew nothing about. That very day, Krishna’s Mamaji came to meet them at the house they were staying in at Lodhi Road in Delhi. He read the letter of proposal. He was sure they would be fine in the Cantonment City. After all, they could enlist the help of his brother-in-law, a boy named Joginder Paul, who lived in Ambala with his parents. This was a relief for Krishna’s parents. They had heard of Joginder. It proved to be even more reassuring when Mamiji said she would ask her brother to locate the address and take them personally to meet the sender of the proposal.

**

    Thus started the captivating love story of Krishna and Joginder Paul, a story replete with wonder and amazement, and learning, the story of the writer and his muse. I still recall the surprise and joy that I saw in Auntie’s eyes, the love that spilled over as she held the book for the first time.

     Krishna Paul is not with us anymore. And yet I feel her presence with me all the time. I wept as I saw her leave on her final journey home, but now, a few days have passed and I can feel her sparkling presence all around. I think back on what she told me during one of our long conversations as she had looked up at the photograph of Joginder Paul by her bed. She wished he hadn’t left her alone while he carried on journeying unseen. Wait, wait, she assured him smiling, as I sat by the two of them, I’m coming she insisted, don’t be impatient.

     I smile at that memory, wondering at the fun the two of them must be having, sailing on that ship, trying to steady it all the while, laughing away on another adventure, spreading love.

 To order the book, please visit:

https://www.amazon.in/My-Other-Half-Conversations-Chandana/dp/819427267X

https://www.amazon.com/dp/819427267X