A Man Of Style: ROOPINDER SINGH
Preminder Singh Sandhawalia
I had known Preminder Singh Sandhawalia for a while when one day he told me: “I am a keen follower of Strunk & White.”
I had not known anyone who described himself in this way.
I was familiar with the two authors of the book that had originally been recommended to me by my philosophy teacher, Vijay Tankha.
Like we all do with many well-meaning recommendations, I did nothing at all about it, till a few years later the name figured again in the list of titles I was expected to be familiar with while doing a journalism course in New York. Now I bought the book and realised how much I could have gained from it if only I had read it earlier.
The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. & E. B. White, is a 1918 classic considered one of the 100 best and most influential books written in the English language.
It is a 100-page style guide for writing in English, which lays stress on pithiness, especially by omitting needless words. The person who told me he was a follower of Strunk & White was one of the most stylish men I had met, linguistically, sartorially and in many other ways.
He lived in Chandigarh, Punjab, and was cosmopolitan in his outlook, quite understandably, since much of his upbringing, education and career span was in Bombay and Delhi. He travelled extensively because of his work on airports for the Government of India, the International Airports Authority, and the International Civil Aviation Organisation. He had a hand in the planning and execution of most of the airports in India, and some abroad, including in Ethiopia. He had settled in Chandigarh after retirement.
He was fond of reading books, had a very impressive library to which he retired to read and ruminate.
He wanted to tell the story of his forefathers and wrote “Noblemen and Kinsmen: History of a Sikh Family”. The slim 250-page volume, which was published in 1999, was informative, especially since it filled a gap about the clan that had been eclipsed by its collaterals, the Sukarchakias. Honoured in the court of the Emperor Ranjit Singh, the Sandhawalia Sardars were also controversial. However, many members of the clan played a role in the history of Punjab.
The book did well, and he was soon on to another, which became “Beyond Identity,” published in 2007.
This time it was a work of fiction, which allowed the author to take creative licence and think of a utopia, even as his characters effortlessly traversed continents familiar to the author. The book launch in Chandigarh was an event that drew an international audience, reflecting the content, and the author’s circle of friends.
Neighbours that we were, we met, though not as often as I would have wanted to. His sons Drishinder and Birinder are friends and I knew that he had been working on another book.
Thus, when I heard of his death in London, it came as a shock. I also learnt that he had just finished his third book, and that pre-publication copies of the book had been dispatched to his Chandigarh residence.
What did not come as a shock was the large number of mourners who had gathered to pay their respects to him, many prominent persons from the city.
The bibliophile in him would also have been touched that among the mourners were the owners of two of the leading bookshops in Chandigarh, paying a quiet tribute to the man, and his love for books.
June 20, 2012