His was a world completely at odds with what she had grown up in. To her it was a huge transition, over a long time, from her snobbish, moneyed, upper class upbringing to his completely down-to-earth approach to life and people, full of love and empathy, an intensely deep connection with everybody and everything around. And it was these and his conviction and belief in himself that she drew strength from to stand up to her family to tell them that she could not have made any other choice.
And though they could not understand many of his eccentricities they also believed deep in their hearts that this was a wonderful human being. Many years later when the Pauls were ready to leave Kenya, Krishna Paul’s brothers acknowledged that what Joginder Paul had earned as love and respect in his fourteen years in that country they hadn’t, not even close to any of that in their lifetime there.
What would have prompted such a woman, educated, beautiful, attractive and from such an affluent background, to agree to marry a person who appeared to be so different from what she stood for? Was he already a celebrated writer when she first met him?
Krishna ji says that all she hoped for with her heart was to be allowed to study further, and the man who agreed to this would be the man for her. To her to study further would mean freedom, where her mind could journey freely.
Of course, when she begins the story of her life, I realise that destiny did grant her what she wished for; perhaps the trajectory wasn’t quite what she had imagined it would be. A false note led to true love, and as the Pauls journeyed through their lives together, they both ultimately immersed themselves in the world of words and books, of creativity and imagination.
In fact I got excited to know about how they met and how the marriage came about. I ask her pointedly if she agreed to marry a man who already harboured ambitions of being a writer, or who considered himself one, at least in his own mind. She says that she had married an ordinary man.
He had come from Pakistan with his family. They were refugees. They were very poor and to help the household run, Joginder Paul would cycle around the town of Ambala, clad in his shabby clothes, collecting and selling milk. When she first heard of him, and subsequently met him, it was by complete coincidence and under extremely dramatic circumstances.
Krishna Paul was visiting India from Nairobi, Kenya, with her parents. They were a well-off business family with her father settled in that country. But, like many other Indian families, she had come along with them to India on a groom-hunt. This was a common practice in those days. Wealthy Indians would come “home” to India to find suitable matches for their daughters and carry off willing young men to settle there.
There were also a large number of refugee boys in India who having lost everything in the Partition were very keen to get out of the country, if only to somehow settle down. The British authorities in Kenya were well aware of how difficult it was for Indian girls, born and brought up in the pleasant climes and locales of Nairobi, to adjust to the heat and dust of India. They had, therefore, eased the immigration rules to allow this movement back and forth.
A matrimonial advertisement had been placed in the newspapers and hundreds of responses received. The “candidates” were all willing to move to Nairobi. In addition to the lure of a better life than the shattered one that faced them in India, Nairobi was a beautiful place. Geographically, it was just two degrees south of the Equator and at a height of 5,600 ft. It was also a plateau land, with pleasant days and nights, where the climate was salubrious through the year.
Krishna ji’s father did not know how to read or write. So, not only did she read out the responses to the advertisement to him, she also decided which ones to reject. Among the many letters was one from Ambala Cantonment from a certain professor in a local college whose only request was that the girl be educated. Krishna ji agreed promptly to meet this man. After all her only wish had been that her parents find someone who let her study further if they were so determined to get her married off.
Her father however was still hesitant about making this trip since Ambala wasn’t a city he knew anything about. But that very day Krishna ji’s Mamaji came to meet them at the house they were putting up at Lodhi Road in Delhi. He read the letter of proposal and assured them that they would be fine in that Cantonment City.
In fact, they could enlist the help of his brother-in-law, a boy named Joginder Paul, who lived in Ambala with his parents. This was a relief for Krishna ji’s parents. They had heard of Joginder Paul and it proved to be more helpful when Mamaji’s wife told them that she would ask her brother to locate the address and take them personally to meet the sender of the proposal.
Excerpted with permission from Krishna Paul: My Other Half, Conversations with Chandana Dutta, Red River; November 2019