I was invited to be an author. God has been very kind to me. No beating my way to publishers with a manuscript—in my case, it just happened as a natural progression.
In 2002, I interviewed India’s first Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh who was promoted to be the first Marshal of the Indian Air Force, a five-star title equivalent to Field Marshal in the Army. This was long after the legendary pilot had retired. The interview was published as a full- page lead article in Spectrum, the Sunday magazine of The Tribune, on February 2002.
A few weeks later, I got a call from Swaraj Chauhan, who had been the Assistant Editor incharge of the Saturday Plus supplement, and my boss, when he worked at The Tribune. He was then commissioning books for Rupa & Co in New Delhi. “Would you be interested in writing a book on Arjan Singh,” he wanted to know. It was not an offer I could refuse.
The book was to be a part of the new Charitavali series—which aimed to bring forth Indian role-models for children. As someone who had been brought up on Ladybird Adventure from History series, I knew more about British heroes and a little about Indian heroes. If I accepted the offer, I would be writing about a person who was a hero, an Indian and an exemplar.
I agreed to accept after meeting the famous and modest Marshal of the Indian Air Force.
“What will you write about me? There is not much to write about,” said the 82-year-old Ajran Singh, when I broached the subject in his elegant and spacious study. He, however, agreed to be interviewed for the book.
I would motor down from Chandigarh to Delhi (250 km) early in the morning and report by 10 am for the interviews, conducted over tea and savouries served by the gracious Teji, his childhood sweetheart and wife. Eventually, the book shaped up, helped in no small measure by the critical and editorial skills of my colleagues, especially Kuljit Bains.
The experience with the Rupa editorial team was great and the “CD-sized” book was released by the then Defence Minister, George Fernandes at the FICI Auditorium, in the presence of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh DFC, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, Chief of the Air Staff and other luminaries on August 14, 2002.
It was not surprising that Rupa had such a large launch for such a small book. It was the man about whom the book was that made it possible. Besides a galaxy of luminaries, my family was there, and a special mention has to be made of my friends who came, some college friends I met after two decades, others friends motored from Chandigarh to Delhi, a distance of 250 km to be there, many of my parents’ friends were also there.
Before I left Delhi after that memorable occasion, the very persuasive and charming R K Mehra, Publisher, Rupa, had extracted a promise from me to do a book on Guru Nanak Dev, the founder of Sikhism. Again, I agreed and the book was presented to the readers on the Baisakhi Day, April 14, 2004.
I thought that having scholars as parents would make writing the book a simple task. How mistaken was I! My mother gave me more than two dozen books to read as reference material. My father despaired as to how I would capture the depth and essence required for a work of this magnitude. Both helped selflessly, as have a number of friends who have gone through both the original manuscript and the revision that I have done for the second edition.
Guru Nanak: Jivan Aur Shishae, the Hindi translation of the book, came out in 2006, along with a paper back edition and the second edition of the hardcover book.
Unfortunately, I lost my father in 2007. It was a difficult time for our family and my mother and I devoted ourselves to producing a festschrift on him and his work. The volume Giani Gurdit Singh 1923-2007 which was released on his birth anniversary, February 24, 2008.
In Sikh Heritage: Ethos and Relics, which was released by Mrs Gursharan Kaur on December 24, 2012, Bhayee Sikandar Singh and I have explored the culture and history of the Sikhs before focusing on the relics of the Gurus, some of which were items of their personal use.
Hard work has its rewards. In my case, it has always been the collective endeavour of those who care for me and whatever I do.
Here are some links about the books and events, information concerning them: