And so it began…..
Born in 1949 in the village of Sohal Jagir, in Punjab India, my love for Punjabi literature started from a very early age. I was always surrounded by books in our house as my father was an avid reader. I remember always seeing him with a book in his hands, and he was very well read in Urdu.
The poetry bug, I inherited from my mother who loved listening to both Sufi and religious poetry. I loved it when it was my turn to read it to her; she would often offer small rewards and bribes to make me read just one more page.
I started writing whilst attending the Higher Secondary School, in Shahkot, Punjab. My Punjabi teacher Mr Fateh Jit was a well-known published writer. I used to love his poetry and often enquire about the deep meaning hidden in his writings. At around the age of sixteen, I won first prize in a story writing competition. After passing my Higher Secondary Exams, I went to Delhi to further my studies; here I came into contact with Mr Marwaha, a middle aged well-spoken and well-read man and enjoyed his company so much, that I would often sit in his office listening to his poems for hours and ask for his help with my own writing too. This was also the time when I felt Socialism was the cure for a lot of ills and my poetry reflected my views at the time. I wrote a lot and a few pieces were published in the monthly literary papers.
My first novel….thirty years in the making …..
Arriving in London in 1969, I felt completely cut off from Punjabi literature, as there was only very little, low quality writing available, nothing thought provoking. I did, however, continue to write, with some of my poetry published in literary Punjabi magazines. I knew I had to write a novel. Yes! I’d to – I’d to keep my promise I made with someone very close to me. She handed her diaries to my wife and took a promise that I will write a novel one day. I couldn’t muster the courage to put pen to paper. Every time I made my mind to write, my inner voice stopped me. “Reading some one’s dairies is a trespass.”
‘But she gave them to my wife just for that purpose of publishing her story,’ I said.
“What if you find something in the diaries that you didn’t want to know? Your dreams will be shattered forever.”
‘I’d to though,’ I cried. I cried a number of times.
Other reason was the subject matter; a very difficult and sensitive one, and also I always wanted to base my writings on real life, whether poetry or prose. I would start to write a few pages and then stop, I simply did not have the courage to tell the story as it was. Then in December of 2012, a tragedy in India shook me to the core. ‘Damini’ a young girl was raped on a moving bus in Delhi. The electronic media highlighted the horrific deeds of that rape case. This was not one incident, rape and mistreatment of women has been happening in India for centuries. With my emotions running very high at the sheer injustice of this and the hypocrisy surrounding it, the lid came off my first Novel, and ‘At Night You Sleep Alone,’ was born. This was the story of a shattered dream that took place some forty years ago. There was a lot of talk about the title too. I say, ‘At Night You Sleep Alone’ – yes, in your own little world.
In order to give a little something back to the community, the entire Sohal family has established the Sardar Karnail Singh Sohal Trust in loving memory of their Papaji (Father). The aim of the trust is to provide Free Eye Care to underprivileged people of a small town in Punjab, India, every year. All proceeds from the sale of At Night You Sleep Alone will go to the Trust.
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