“Three countries made me the person I am. India, the country I was born in and schooled in the Independence movement, England which made a Democrat out of me, a liberal and took out feudalism in me and Canada gave me the space, opportunity and chance to get the education and future I always wanted,” reflected Ujjal Dosanjh at the Chandigarh launch of his memoir Journey After Midnight (Speaking Tiger) on Tuesday evening.
In conversation with poet and translator Nirupama Dutt, Dosanjh spoke at length about his book, which is personal and political, about the world, and about his own life, written with honesty and courage, which Dosanjh says are integral in one’s life and being.
Going back in time, Dosanjh, who was born in Jalandhar district 10 months before India’s Independence, recalls how his family, which owned five acres of land, was committed to education and how he had the privilege to meet and interact with freedom fighters, which made a great impact on his life.
“I wanted to study political science in Hoshiarpur, but my father did not have the finances to send me and despite his protests and disapproval, when I was 18, with a cotton quilt, I emigrated to the UK alone. I spent four years there, doing every job in the world you can think of, making crayons, working at car parks, shunting trains, while attending night school. I wanted to go away from scarcity and run away to do something on my own,” said Dosanjh.
The dream of attending university made Dosanjh move to Canada where, he says, the Indian community was integrated and the larger society’s issues became his. Making his way through hard work, conviction, Dosanjh earned a law degree, and committed himself to justice for vulnerable communities, including immigrant women, farm workers, and religious, racial and sexual minorities.
In 2000, he became the first person of Indian origin to lead a government in the western world when he was elected Premier of British Columbia and later, he was elected to the Canadian parliament. “Law gives you tools to understand the problems of this world,” he said, reading excerpts from his book.
Talking elaborately on his dream for India, which forms part of the book, Dosanjh feels that India should be a country of better human beings, values and ethics. “You cannot disassociate yourself from your culture. We need a revolution of ethics, values, and people need to be changed, for it’s not bills, but people which make a better country. We need another Gandhi in this country.”
Dosanjh adds that India’s political culture needs to be changed, for in a democracy religion cannot become the voice, the need is to have concrete ideas and innovate.