A small parcel was delivered to me a few weeks back by the apartment guard. When I finally opened it after keeping it aside for 12 hours and sanitizing it (to ensure there was no virus) a book came out of the envelope that took me back to a different era – My Other Half: Krishna Paul in Conversation with Chandana Dutta. Just one look at the cover and you get a whiff of the time gone by – an inland letter with the handwritten address of noted Urdu writer Joginder Paul and black & white photograph of Krishna Paul, his better half. The back cover carries a picture of Krishna Paul now, smiling at us affectionately. As I opened the book, the handwritten inside cover greeted me, reminding me of letters and journals that are now long forgotten. I smiled happily browsing through the pages, admiring the old back and white photographs of Joginder Paul and his family. Kindle can never give that feel!
I called up Chandana, a close friend who strung together this book, to thank her before putting it on my bedside table. That night as I started reading, I was immediately transported to pre-independence India when a young girl and her family came down from Kenya in search of a suitable groom. A beautiful love story made more intriguing by the quirks of Joginder Paul and the determination of Krishna Paul. Sixteen year old Krishna had cleared her Matric exam with six distinctions and was entitled to scholarships from several colleges in London. Her only condition was she would marry a man who would allow her to continue her studies, to which Joginder Paul agreed. He had no problem with her studying or doing something else with her life. To him these were trivialities before other questions of life, poverty and hunger, that he wanted to address.
Joginder Paul kept his promise. Though Krishna couldn’t pursue higher studies in London, she completed her post-graduation in 1955-56 and joined SB College in Aurangabad as lecturer. She joined the department of English in Jamia as lecturer in 1976. Proficient in several languages like Hindi, Punjabi English, Urdu and Swahili Krishna has translated widely, primarily works of Joginder Paul from Urdu into Hindi and English.
Being married to a brilliant mind, being a match both emotionally and intellectually to a man like Joginder Paul, was a challenge that Krishna faced with grit, love, and affection. As the narration progressed, I was more intrigued by Krishna Paul, her intellect, her wit, her literary acumen, and the active role that she played in shaping the great writer’s masterpieces. “Maybe she could have been a brilliant storyteller herself,” I wondered.
Their first train ride as a couple, Paul leading Krishna to a vacant coach to chat with his new bride, reading one of his published stories to her for the first time, are unconventionally romantic. Krishna realized immediately that her husband was special and so started their journey together.
Chandana chose to narrate her interactions with Krishna Paul, rather than follow the interview format and that adds to the magic, brings to life this amazing woman who let her husband’s brilliance overshadow her. Life with Joginder Paul was not easy for Krishna who had grown up in the lap of luxury in Kenya. Not just material discomfort, Joginder Paul’s ideals, his whims, his refusal to settle down could make things difficult. Yet what surprises me the most is that Krishna Paul never complains, never glorifies her sacrifices. She doesn’t exalt her husband either, while she recognizes his brilliance, she’s also critical of his shortcomings as a man of this world. Her depiction of the creative process of Joginder Paul, her love for her husband, her sense of humour and the ease with which she narrates their life together gives the reader an insight into two brilliant minds – Joginder Paul and the woman behind his success.
What makes the book more endearing is the love and the warmth with which Chandana presents the journey of this incredible woman. From the ‘the writer’s wife’, who she started meeting frequently to understand Joginder Paul, Krishna Paul became her own person “as much in command of herself and her universe, as was Joginder Paul, in command of his words,” Chandana writes in her introduction. She realized that Krishna Paul was telling a captivating story and decided to pen it by keeping the essence of the story intact, as a narrative. For Chandana, it was a humbling experience “to meet two of the most fantastic storytellers of our times, one through the other.” Thus, we have a beautiful story of Krishna Paul, her insights that help us comprehend the man, Joginder Paul!