Punjabi review
Rewarding journeys
Shalini Rawat

25 Mulk 75 Gallan
by Gulzar Singh Sandhu. Navyug Publishers, New Delhi. Pages 168. Price 140.

25 Mulk 75 GallanDear reader, what do you say of a book that is at once a collection of notes, a memoir, a travelogue, a journal and a souvenir all rolled in one and then denies all these categorisations in the preface itself? (The total number of countries talked about is 27, so you contradict/deny the title too, never mind the apology/clarification in the preface.) A book that reinforces the stereotypes about the lands that the writer travels to and then breaks a few?

However, there is one thing in the preface that I agree with, the writer talks about small issues concerning large countries and larger issues concerning smaller ones. And then some.

You may ruminate over talk of the socio-cultural similarities and political polarities of India and Pakistan (Vajpayees have come and gone, but the border lives on), the cultural shock one receives on arriving in America (itís my life), the dignity of labour in the UK (what? Whites clean their toilets?), the massage parlours of Thailand (planning the next official trip there?) and other random observations that are today part of the general knowledge of an average 10-year-old Indian.

But the juicy bits are the coloured glasses through which the writer sees his world. When the writer, for instance, empathises with a maulvi who for all his social graces canít allow a woman inside a mosque in Pakistan and suffers guilt pangs. He talks of the vacuum in the lives of the Blacks and Red Indians, who have been Ďsavedí by America. He also talks of the near-perfect peace in Lumbini in Nepal. He marvels at the power that a speck on the map called Vatican City wields over the world, at the cunning of the Filipinos and at the world-class casinos in Monaco. He also proudly includes details of his travels to (and travails in) not-so-hip places like Tonga and Marshall Islands, places thought un-prestigious to write home about.

And while writing all this, he takes up the issue of the Punjabi language, which, by tilting towards Persian and Hindi in Pakistan and India respectively, is losing its claim of being a common bond between the two nations. Of the pain and alienation of the Punjabi Diaspora all over the world who still cling to the memories of their roots while branching out and flowering well in their adopted lands (a subject which has recently seen cinema halls screening Punjabi movies like Asan nu maan watna da packed like never before). He confesses to the dull and awkward moments as well as the moments of truth, like on a roller coaster ride, in a travellerís life. The language is crisp and yet stilted.

Certainly a lot to write home about. Do buy a copy, if nothing else than to show friends that publishers of books in regional literatures can do a good job. And also that life can be lived outside the parenthesis you build around yourself. Hope that opening this book is the beginning of another journey for you. Have a great time.