Book Review by Bhaskar Parichha
Title: Journey After Midnight – A Punjabi Life: From India to Canada
Author: Ujjal Dosanjh
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
The Punjabi Diaspora is a global phenomenon that has grown in size and complexity in recent years. It is estimated that there are around 20 million Punjabis living outside the Punjab region in India and Pakistan. This is stretching across multiple continents and countries. Punjabis have migrated to different parts of the world since the British Raj. However, this diaspora has become more visible in recent decades due to technology and global connectivity.
Highly diverse and dynamic, with different groups of Punjabis living in different places around the world. In North America, Punjabis are concentrated in the United States and Canada. In Europe they are mainly settled in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and France. In the Middle East, they are found in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia. In South East Asia, they are mainly settled in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia.
Punjabis have had a significant impact on the culture and economy of the countries where they have settled. Their positive contributions were felt in multiple industries, from agriculture to tech. They have been key to spurring economic growth in the areas where they have settled. They have also had a major influence on the culture and cuisine of these countries, with Punjabi food being a popular choice in many areas.
Journey After Midnight – A Punjabi Life : From India to Canada by Ujjal Dosanjh speaks about the Punjabi diaspora in all its splendor. Dosanjh was born in the Jalandhar district of Punjab in 1946. He emigrated to the UK in 1964 and from there to Canada in 1968. He was Premier of British Columbia from 2000 to 2001 and a Liberal Party of Canada Member of Parliament from 2004 to 2011, including a period as Minister of Health and Minister Responsible for Multiculturalism, Human Rights and Immigration. In 2003 he was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred by the Government of India on overseas Indians.
The blurb contends: “Journey After Midnight is the compelling story of a life of rich and varied experience and rare conviction. With fascinating insight, Ujjal Dosanjh writes about life in rural Punjab in the 1950s and early ’60s; the Indian immigrant experience—from the late 19th century to the present day—in the UK and Canada; post-Independence politics in Punjab and the Punjabi diaspora— including the period of Sikh militancy—and the inner workings of the democratic process in Canada, one of the world’s more egalitarian nations.”
Dosanj states candidly: “Today’s world has few leaders brimming with great ideas. The paucity of great leaders afflicts India as well. There are no inspiring giants on the national stage tall enough to lead India out of the ethical and moral quagmire. Asked whether he was working to create a new India along with seeking its independence from Britain, Mahatma Gandhi had declared that he was trying to create a new Indian–an honest, fair and just Indian for a proud, progressive, prosperous and caring India. Since the Mahatma’s time the moral and ethical values of India have decayed. In Indian politics, civil service and public life, there is little evidence of the ideals he lived and died for.”
He continues: “A substantial portion of the Indian economy is underground; all due to the sadly enduring disease of corruption. The albatross of financial, ethical and moral corruption is strangulating and shortchanging the country. Those who say economic progress will by itself free India from corruption are just as wrong as those who in the 1950s maintained that education by itself would reduce corruption. It obviously hasn’t, and India finds itself counted among the most corrupt countries on earth. Corruption shatters human dreams and stunts ingenuity. It constrains personal and political liberties. It severely limits opportunities. The main hindrance in the path of social, political, economic and cultural progress is the disconnect between knowing what is right and doing the right thing; most know what is the right and the ethical thing to do, but they continue to do the wrong and the unethical thing; hence the ubiquitous corruption.”
Calling upon the Indians for a moral revolution Dosanj writes: “The sculpting of Gandhi’s Indians, and the building of the India of the dreams of its founding fathers and mothers, requires a moral and ethical revolution-a revolution of values that are of Indians, by Indians and for Indians. No matter how bleak the political and ethical scene today, I’m certain there are great minds fearless, humane and brave among the billion plus residents of India. We may not see
them, but they exist. We may not know them, but they are among us. They must heed India’s call. They must come forward and lead. India’s destiny demands it.”
In the ‘Afterword’ he laments about the state of affairs of Punjab in recent times: “Punjab is staring at the prospect of turmoil, radicalization and violent fundamentalism, and yet many in the government and otherwise seem obsessed with presenting and treating the likes of the late singer Moosewala as modern Punjab’s heroes. That the young singer’s life was cut short by gangsters’ guns was horrible and must be condemned. Beyond that the AAP and others must be careful not to glorify violence. Unfortunately, almost the whole of Punjab seems taken with Moosewala; the young man was a talented singer but much of his poetry and music was about guns and aggressive machismo. Is that what Punjab needs and must idolize?”
Dosanjh writes candidly about his dual identity as a first-generation immigrant. And he describes how he has felt compelled to campaign against the discriminatory policies of his adopted country. He opposes regressive and extremist tendencies within the Punjabi community. His outspoken views against the Khalistan movement in the 1980s led to death threats and vicious physical assaults, and he narrowly escaped the bombing of Air India Flight 182 in 1985. Yet he has remained steadfast in his defence of democracy, human rights and effective governance in the two countries he calls home—Canada and India.
The writing style is fluid and languid. This is not a book that can be judged on the basis of its literary merit. It isn’t just a simple memoir, but rather a record of a turbulent period in India’s history. It is a book that represents a lifetime journey, crossing oceans and cultures. As a memoir, Ujjal Dosanjh’s book is at once personal and political, but most importantly, it is inspiring.
Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of Unbiased, No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.
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