Krishna Paul’s Conversations with Chandana Dutta



     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



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.


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.


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

    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

     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.

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