by: Dr. Jaspal Singh
Source: South Asia Post: ISuue 22, Volume I
Biography is not a very popular genre in Punjabi. Sometime a stray writer does make an attempt to pen an autobiography which usually ends in an exercise in panegyric self glorification. Even biographies are equally eulogistic and more often than not obfuscate the chronological life-line of the narrative. Consequently the subject falls a victim to the predicate. Autobiography like Jean Jacques Rousseauâ€™s Confessions is yet to appear in Punjabi. Nevertheless a few autobiographies of some of the woman writers like Amrita Pritam, Ajit Kaur and Dalip Kaur Tiwana have been very popular with readers and a few lesser writers have tried to imitate them albeit with disastrous results.
Gurdial Dalal so far has remained a small time writer with four small collections of short stories and a collection of satirical writings. He retired as a school principal and after his retirement has almost become a whole time writer. A few days ago his autobiography Chhaati Anderley Thheh (The Ruins Buried in the Chest) has appeared. It is not a usual autobiography unfolding the in the manner of a chronological narrative in the traditional style. In fact it is a collection of autobiographical incidents described in a vivid language with a sprinkling of many localisms pertaining to the Chamkaur area of Punjab..
The author was born at Doraha in Ludhiana district but his family had to shift to Raipur his motherâ€™s parental village after the death of his father. The middle aged with four male children decided to live with her brother at Raipur then moves on to Agra and ultimately to Doraha, the birth place of the author. Nearly half the life story unrolls at Raipur. The first ten chapters out of the total twenty two lay out a variegated panorama life in a small village ensconced in the marshy banks of the Sirhind Canal, replete with thick wetland plantation of seeds and spear grass. This life story begins in 1955, nearly half a century ago and ends in the present year..
As a small child the author has to undergo extreme adversity. Every day he had to trudge a few miles through the dirty paths to reach his school. For most of the year he would not have any shoes to put on so in seething summers and in chilling winters he and the other village boys would tie thick leaves under their foot shoals..
The widowed mother would work as a form labourer or at time as a domestic helps with the families of equally impoverished farmers. Gurdialâ€™s childless maternal uncle Ami Chand was the village tailor. Once he saw in a prophetic dream that his nephews would turn out to be promising youths thus dragging the family out of penury. Ami Chand started taking interest in their education and eventually the lads made their mark in life. They may not have reached the top yet they were able reach the middle level which was a great achievement under those circumstances..
Gurdial himself became a school principal and a noted writer of Punjabi. The present autobiography delineates his journey from a poor helpless orphan boy to become a postgraduate in Mathematics and education which by no means a small attainment. Some of the incidents particularly his brush with death when he was going to drown in the canal and his description of the beardless village teacher Amar Singh who transformed the village environment are very sensitive. The events of Agra days and the characters like Brahm Dev, Rameshwar, Gauri Shankar and Naresh Kumar too are animated and vibrant full of robust feelings and an optimistic mission of life. The portrait of authorâ€™s mother particularly her last days when she had already seared a century is very moving yet objective for which as the author states he was sun down by his relations for revealing too much almost his own mother. The old woman really appears to be a true specimen of an ordinary amnesiac individual that one meets once in a while in every village or town, Gurdial Dalalâ€™s short but sharp autobiography would be admired for its related intimate details of the unsavoury incidents of life which one usually tries to gloss over.