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The Editor

GURMEET KAUR

 

 

 

Something happened today and it shifted my gears in a second. My mind instantly escaped the stench of negativity and filled itself with fragrant gratitude instead.

A voice rang in my head, the same voice over the phone that for over two years starts with a ‘Fateh’ (a Sikh greeting) followed by “maaf karna, bhainji, mai tuhanu phone nahi kar sakya …(Forgive me, sister, I could not call you earlier …)”

I had been full of complaints and frustrations, and then, suddenly, they were behind me.

Although, I think, I have a legitimate reason to complain.

I have spent three long years researching, digging through long neglected piles, retelling, typing, transcribing, translating, proofing these tales, getting them illustrated, getting them published, advertising, marketing, selling, shipping …and wait, the list is only half over. Seriously!

I am talking about my books, the first ever Punjabi (and English) language folktale board-books for children, I have titled “Fascinating Folktales of Punjab”.

When my first baby was but an infant, I wanted nicely illustrated Punjabi language books for him. I couldn’t find them. I bought tons of English language board-books for him, lots of folktales from around the world; but I also wanted at least a few in Punjabi.  I looked and looked. They simply didn’t exist. That was many years ago.

Time passed. He grew up. I was still looking, perhaps for my would-be grand children. There were still no such books to be found. The Punjabi books he grew up with, he didn’t care for them. Cheaply constructed, badly illustrated, too verbose, no colors. Nothing a child would love to hold in his/her hands and feel the pleasure, the joy. No wonder, we are not a reading culture in our own language.

Fate had it so that I had another baby, just three years ago.

Curse the heavens! Nobody had still created the books I so badly desired and longed for.

“Do our children not deserve good quality Punjabi literature that connects them to their rich language and heritage?” I moaned.

Flash! The moment of truth.

“Yes they do and, no, nobody will create them for you! If you want them so badly, go create them yourself!”

So, since then, my journey into this unknown territory began. I dug out my old collection from my son’s era and retold them. I loved telling them to my daughter. I rhymed them so she would catch onto them instantly. It was a pleasure to write and sing them for her, but, it was painstaking to make them error free for mass production. It was a pleasure to work with an American illustrator to have a personal copy for us; but it was a pain to have every detail worked out for publishing. I had no prior experience.

But I did it anyway, because I knew there are other mothers out there who felt the same void as I did.

I created and published the first set of three books last year and now I have finished the work on the next set of two more. Besides three years of my time that I put in, I have also invested thousands of dollars of my savings in this project.  And no, I have not recovered even a decent part of it.

It’s not that people didn’t love the product. The reviews have been amazing, the feedback from parents made me cry time and over again, and children memorized these tales in no time and increased their vocabulary manifold.

I was told by a parent (and similarly by many others) that they have over a hundred children’s books at home and the only ones their child gravitated to were mine.

But yet, they sold very little. I have reached out to Khalsa schools, friends, advertised on facebook, created a book trailer, stood for hours with a table outside gurdwaras … exhausted all methods within my reach.

It has so dimmed the excitement I started out with. Most people in our community would not shell out $25 for a set of three heavy-laminated, full color board books for their children. I have witnessed children salivating over the books but parents whisking them away. Everyone wants a free copy. Some even ask me if they can photocopy my books!

“This is our culture, this is the people I created the product for?” I asked myself.

So, you can imagine my frustration and why I get into the whining mode. Especially now that I am trying to raise funds to clear my shipment of the new set of books still sitting in Hong Kong. I found I was sliding down the hole of negativity, fast.

Inni Kaur (author of the ‘Journey with the Gurus‘ series of children‘s books), who is my mentor in so many ways, and I often start our conversation with the line: “Bhaine, I need my head examined. My sister’s garage (in her case her husband’s office) is full of the previous set of books yet unsold, where am I going to keep the new shipment?”

We share our worries. At the end, we just laugh at each other’s insanity, and make each other promise to shoot the other in the head if we do it again, knowing very well that we’re both incorrigible.

Concerned and well meaning parents want more, and faster, and yet, after sending emails and making calls for a month, I have pre-sold a mere fraction of the shipment I am about to receive, covering only 10% of the cost.

“Thanks, all, for taking the joy out of my passion,” I hear myself mutter under my breath, every now and then. I have been sliding down the hole of negativity, faster and faster, in full sight of the pit below.

Suddenly …

“Maaf karna bhainji …”

That soothing voice, full of composure and respect, fills my head.

I stop sliding and his voice, like an invisible hand, pulls me up, instantly.

This voice is the back-bone behind these books.

It is the voice of my Punjabi editor, my proofer and teacher who takes me into the depths of this beautiful language. He connects me to the language and the lifestyle of rural Punjab, the artifacts, the history, all of it.

You see, I was not born in Punjab, nor did I ever live there. I didn’t even read or speak Punjabi properly until I was 24 or so, when my identity suddenly dawned upon me. (Yes, it was when I became a mother for the very first time).

So, how come you don’t smell my failings and shortcomings from my books? Because, I have help from him, my editor, who is rich in all the areas in which I am poor.

I have never met him.

I don’t even know what he looks like (no he is not on Facebook). I don‘t know where he works, how old he is, or anything else about him, for that matter.

All I have is his phone number.

We instantly connected when he read my manuscript and offered to translate my “It’s June again” poem into Punjabi a couple of years ago. Nineteen Eight-Four -- it has broken so many, but has equally brought many more hearts together. His translation oozed of the same pain and hope as the original. I was in awe.

Swayed by his Punjabi skills, I told him of my desire to write chidlren’s books and my apprehensions about my lack of Punjabi-language skills.

He offered to help.

I showed him the work I had already done. He was sold.

And he delivered.

For over two years now, he has held my hand. Each book first goes on his anvil and gets shaped into the perfection I could’ve never imagined.

I need his help in every sentence I write. Yet, we talk only once in a while because he is a very busy man. I make time in the middle of the night sometimes to accommodate his time zone and prepare all my notes ahead of time so that our sessions are productive.

Sometimes, I have to wait a month to get an appointment with him. Sometimes, he cancels them five times before he’s able to work with me again. But when he does, he is worth every minute of wait.

He is an ocean of knowledge and and brims with the love of Punjabi. Our creativity flows together. He makes each story so much, much more.

He never asks anything in return, nothing for the time and love he pours into it all. When I thank him, he only says that I can never comprehend the joy he gets in revisiting his childhood, his homeland, his mother-tongue that he has been separated from for so long.

When I complain about the logistics or my frustrations over things, he laughs out loud, but very kindly, reassuring me that challenges are a part of life, of anything we do. If he has solutions, he carefully gives me direction.

I always end the call with a sense of calm over me. He always leaves me a re-energized story teller.

I wish I could learn more from him. Learn more of the language I love so dearly. Learn about the land I call my homeland. Learn patience, positivity and the sweetness of seva without expecting any reward, recognition or returns. 

But most of all, I wish I too can be that voice on the phone to someone, someday, to pull him or her out of a slide into the heart of darkness.

Thank You, Nirvair Singh ji … Thank You!

 

Gurmeet Kaur is the author and creator of “Fascinating Folktales of Punjab” (www.folktalesofpunjab.com), bilingual illustrated board-books for children. If you would like to pre-order these books for your family or community and help make this project viable, please contact her at folktalesofpunjab@gmail.com


September 10, 2014
 

 

 

 
 

Conversation about this article

1: Irvinder Singh Babra (Brampton, Ontario, Canada), September 10, 2014, 5:47 AM.

Gurmeet ji: just read about your publishing venture, and can only say -- either hang in or stop. But cheer up, be real, be in Chardi Kala. Well, in the first place, nobody had asked you to publish, you had no orders, you went on a whim, and now after three years of it, there is mind-boggling praise but no cash coming! I can say from a lot of personal experience that such ventures do not bring in enough cash at all. Look at any publishing ventures -- they're all cash-strapped. People committed to publishing somehow still find a way to survive -- and even prosper! Because there are many other rewards ...

2: Harinder Singh (Punjab), September 10, 2014, 7:19 AM.

All Punjabi schools must have classes and courses to create and nurture Punjabi writers of the future. Punjabi universities should hold international writers' get-togethers. A strict copyright policy should also be implemented. A translator's group within Punjabi circles should translate all children's book and other classics into Punjabi.

3: Jasbeer Singh (New Delhi, India), September 10, 2014, 7:38 AM.

DSGMC is running many Sikh schools and institutes in New Delhi. And there are many others as well. Is it not possible to touch base with them on your project and plans. Not sure if you've already tried that route ...

4: Chintan Singh (San Jose, California, USA), September 10, 2014, 10:12 AM.

I have known Nirvair veer ji for 15 years. He was my first friend, no, a big brother, when I moved to San Francisco bay area from New Delhi. He was there loading boxes in his own truck when we needed help in moving to our very first apartment. He has helped all kinds of endeavors at the grass roots level in total humility. 13 years ago when the tragic events of 9/11 happened, he mobilized the youth in San Jose and Fremont and organized candle light vigils and distributed "Who are the Sikhs" flyers. He has supported every Sikh organization and cause including Sikh Coalition, Saldef and Ensaaf but without himself being publicized or for that matter even known. He has been teaching Punjabi classes in the San Jose Khalsa school. He is the most humble, remaining behind the scenes, and soft spoken person I have ever come across. He rolls up his sleeves and does seva for any institute / organization without asking for any kind of recognition -- indeed very true to the Punjabi / Gurmukhi meaning of his beautiful name. He is a role model for so many youth in the San Francisco area. Thank you, Nirvair veer ji, for everything you have done for the community.

5: Harman Singh (California, USA), September 10, 2014, 11:51 AM.

Gurmeet ji, I have really enjoyed reading your books and sharing them with my daughter. In fact I learned to read Punjabi last year so that I can read them with my daughter. I have shared/gifted the set to many of my friends with young children. Your books are already inspiring many, like me, to get closer to their roots. I wish you Chardi Kala in your endeavors!

6: Amardeep  (USA), September 10, 2014, 12:16 PM.

I had the opportunity to meet him and his kind son during 'Sikh Awareness Day'. He helped me with his seva too. Gurmeet, I can't even imagine how frustrated you must feel, even though I too have tasted a bit of it in my own projects.

7: Jasvir Kaur (USA), September 10, 2014, 2:49 PM.

Gurmeet Bhain ji, there are always negatives and positives in every experience. I am sorry you have faced more than your share of negatives in the hopes of doing quality work for the community. In general, people take the easy way out and don't give a darn about quality of work. Keep making waves and demanding better quality from yourself and others. You will find many rewards along the path and a feeling of gratitude afterwards. I am thankful someone as passionate as you has dedicated herself to this important project, it will hopefully be used for generations to come. Keep being your beautiful self and don't let others get the better of you, that is the essence of Chardi Kala. Thank you for sharing a bit about the editor of your wonderful books.

8: Sukhwinder Singh (Vismaad) (Ajitgarh, Punjab), September 11, 2014, 5:26 AM.

Gurmeet Kaur ji: you are one of those select few who are chosen to serve a forgotten cause. Causes which are the life line of community, society and panth but the masses are so enamoured by the glitter of maya that they slash the lifelines of history, Culture, and language to bleed. The Supreme Power then ignites a flame of love in the heart of a chosen one who, unmindful of a mountain of challenges, keeps going to resurrect an adulterated culture, to rewrite an obscured history and to reignite a bonding with the mother tongue. Alas! but the people have been intoxicated for so long that it would take a whole lifetime to jolt them out of deep slumber. Enjoy the blessings of Waheguru because for every hundreds of thousands of ignorant people you are gifted with one Nirvair Singh. Those Nirvair Singhs are also the chosen ones to be spokes in the wheel of change of which, the likes of Gurmeet and Inni Kaurs are the hub. The spokes ensure the whole wheel keeps rotating and moving forward. Speed and distance to be covered are in the hands of the Creator! It's my personal guarantee that the Nirvair Singhs will keep springing up to cheer you up when everything else may appear so awful. That is Waheguru calling to tell you that it's not yet the time to give up. A little bit more about Nirvair Singh veerji to spice up what you don't know about him. Veerji is a technology geek and has worked for some some unconventional technology companies in the Bay Area. He has taught at Khalsa School, San Jose for so many years now. His youthfulness and radiance don't fail to impact you. Veerji would go any distance for the cause of Punjabi, Punjabiyat and, more importantly, Gurmat; despite a demanding and hectic work schedule. How do I know so much about Nirvair Singh ji? He also happens to be that voice of Waheguru for Vismaad that you are lucky to hear for your passion of Punjabi books. I pray to Waheguru to bless you in creating an unending stream of books to keep Punjabi alive in the hearts of young kids for many many generations. I pray for Chardi Kala for all Nirvair Singhs who have the heart to contribute so much for panthic causes without ever cribbing for any recognition.

9: Gurmeet Kaur (Atlanta, Georgia, USA), September 11, 2014, 7:36 AM.

Irvinder Singh ji - Sorry if I came across wrong. I do not care about cash flow. I care about sustainability of this project. And no, I did not start this on a whim; there was a clear need and demand. I created several prototypes and printed them locally and when they were showcased, parents were in awe and wanted more. (And those parents are the support I still have). And stopping is not an option. The ranting was to share the state of affairs with the global sangat and to find some viable solutions and finally to highlight how and why the likes of Inni Kaur, Sukhwinder Singh and this humble minion keep going. As pointed out in comment #8, there will always be Nirvair Singhs to bring Chardi Kala to such causes. Unfortunately, I have not reached a point where I can be in Chardi Kala all the time. Hope to be there someday.

10: Harry Rakhraj (New Delhi, India), October 24, 2014, 2:14 AM.

Years from now when you look at this article of yours, you'll smile ... smile with a sense of satisfaction. What you have attempted no one has ever dared before: Immortalize, Immortalize the undocumented oral Sikh and Punjabi traditiona. Kudos!

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