This is the autobiography of Padma Bhushan recipient, Kartar Singh Duggal, who has been a nominated Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha) in 1997 and has received several literary awards, including felicitation by the World Punjabi Conference 2000 as the ?Punjabi Writer of the Millennium?.
Born in village Dhamial, possibly in 1917, as a sickly child after two sisters, he is pampered a lot as the ?the male child of petty bourgeoisie of the early 20th century.? As the only grandson too he is indulged in no end. Sitting all alone, he would often get lost in thoughts of ghosts and goblins, dreadful dark nights, thundering storms, flashes of lightning, torrential rains, fury of floods washing away homes, tribal raids, pillage and plundering, rape and rapine.
He is admitted to a school run by Maulvi Shudda. Soon he joins the Khalsa school. His grandfather dies just before revolutionary Bhagat Singh is hanged to death by the British. Tension rises high in the village. ?The time is tumultuous; the freedom struggle is at its decisive stage.? Every other day some tragic happening takes place?a shooting here, a killing there. ?Such incidents were called sakas in common parlance. Whenever a saka took place, fire would not be lit in the hearth in our house. Everyone went without food.?
Duggal is withdrawn from the Khalsa School and admitted to Dennys High School in Rawalpindi Cantonment, where his class-fellows take lessons in Urdu and Hindi while Kartar goes ?to the school library to read the Punjabi course without any teacher to guide me.?
He passes with good results and joins the Gordon Mission College. He is chosen president of the Students League. At college, he gets to meet Sarojini Naidu who is impressed to know that Duggal writes Punjabi poetry, but tells him tersely, ?It is now the time to fight and throw out the British. We are soldiers in a war for freedom, sacrificing everything at the altar of swaraj. The iron is hot. This is the time to strike. We need the support of the country'syouth; you must gird up your loins??
Another love that he creates is for Davendra Satyarthy'sfolksongs. Duggal is also particularly impressed by Punjabi folksongs, which ?are invaluable treasures of our country'sheritage? and the stories of Heer-Ranjha, Sohhni-Mahiwal and Mirza-Sahiban.
Duggal develops friendship with a Muslim girl named Shabnam but his family shifts to Lahore. His first major publication is a collection of short stories, which mark a ?landmark? in Punjabi short fiction. This is followed with a collection of poetry entitled Kandhe Kandhe (Brink of the Bank), Pippal Patian (Leaves of Peepal Tree), Kahani Kardi Gai (The Girl Continued to Tell her Tale) and Band Darwaze (Closed Doors). He joins the All India Radio (AIR) as a programmer and subsequently is given charge of the Drama Section at the AIR, Lahore.
Duggal narrates a very interesting incident during his stay in Lahore where he stays with a Muslim family. Here he meets a young unmarried girl who is a great admirer of Mohammed Ali Jinnah?his looks, his dress, even the shirts he wears. She advocates the creation of Pakistan vehemently. At this Duggal pleads for Khalistan??My argument being, if you can'ttrust the Hindu and must have Pakistan, we Sikhs don'ttrust the Muslims and must have Khalistan carved out for us.?
While both were arguing, the news comes that communal riots have begun in Pothoar as his village Dhamial has been sacked by the rioters. He says, ?Instantly we forgot our difficulties and started making enquiries for more details about the disturbances. Everyone was trying to empathise with me.?
He admits, ?Pakistan was indeed a stern reality, an inevitability. It was no use closing one'seyes to it. It was around the corner. The nearer it was approaching, the communal tension worsened. It started with Pothoar, adjacent to the North-West Frontier Province??
Duggal then describes in detail how he comes to marry a Muslim wife, Ayesha, who is a medical graduate from Lady Hardinge College in Delhi.
A major part of the book is devoted to describing his chequered career in broadcasting at the All India Radio and subsequently as an upcoming litterateur. What is nice about the book is that since his life is woven against the Partition of India, he gets to know of the plight of the refugees who had to leave Pakistan to start life afresh. Duggal'slife is a moving story about a man who maintains his faith despite the vicissitudes of life to tide over the crises that keep cropping up every now and then.
(National Book Trust, India, A-5 Green Park, New Delhi-110 016.)