It is more than two decades now when I had a chance to see Life's Vagaries, a collection of Stephen Gill's short stories at the house of one of my friends. I found the stories, set in different countries, deep and easy to read. I became eager to know
I remember the evening vividly. It was cold. Stephen Gill was giving a talk to a literary gathering in Mississauga, Ontario about his writing technique. During the coffee break, I introduced myself, offering my hand for a shake. His hands were really warm. That day laid the foundation for our friendship. As a writer and editor of Predesi Panjab, an ethnic publication, I became curious to know his interests for an article. I invited him to my house . Entering into my living room the next evening, he said he would prefer meeting writers, even if they are poor, than meeting a king. I felt proud to be in the company of such a being.
Stephen Gill, I came to know, is a strong supporter of world federalism. He was once elected as a vice-president of the Canadian World Federalist and also worked as the editor of its newspaper for years. As a world federalist he wants a democratically elected government for the whole world to bring peace and harmony on the planet. He is against wars because violence does not solve problems. Moreover, wars waste human lives as well as natural resources.
I discovered that this many-sided personality has a rare passion for writing and is ever eager to share this passion with others. He organized a branch of the Canadian Authors Association in Cornwall, so that budding writers could be encouraged. He contested two elections for a councillor's seat to promote arts. Though he was unsuccessful, yet he was able to get his message across. In 1982, I came to know the author better when he co-ordinated the 2nd World Panjabi Writers Conference at the University of Ottawa in spite of a fierce opposition based on jealousy and ignorance. He was determined and was able to arrange it successfully because of his goal that was to establish a line of communication between Panjabi and Canadian writers. This conference is still mentioned as the best world Panjabi writers conference held so far. In 1983, I brought out a special issue of the Predesi Panjab to highlight the major aspects of Stephen's life and writing.
Gill's writing ranges from lyrical and imagistic poetry to well-researched books as on Bangladesh; W.B. Yeats; George Bernard Shaw; and H.G. Wells. He has also fiction to his credit. I find that it is in his poetry where the real Stephen Gill emerges. He told me that poetry is his spiritual biography. The most remarkable feature of his personality is versatility. The list of his books is a pleasing mixture of literary criticism, fiction, poetry, anthologies, and essays.
In modesty, Gill is reluctant to talk about the early influences which have shaped his literary personality. However, his writings show he has read considerably about three era-makers, namely Buddha, Christ, and Mahatma Gandhi. There is also great influence of Munshi Prem Chand, a prominent story writer of India. It is due to the influence of world federalism that he considers himself as a world citizen.
Whatever it is, poetry or politics, the outcome of his efforts is invariably a remarkable contribution to the understanding of the problems of the day. The alacrity with which the writer in Stephen Gill changes into a fearless crusader distinguishes him from those who write to please themselves. Gill's writings have a purpose and he sticks to that purpose no matter what the risk or medium may be.
I had the privilege to stay with him in his home a few time to observe his daily life. The atmosphere in the living room and office of Stephen Gill is characteristic. He welcomes artists, musicians and writers. Discussions about arts and literary topics are some day-to-day affairs around him. To stay with Stephen Gill is like staying in an academy where one gets a good doze of knowledge on regular basis.
He lives in Cornwall which is not a big city. Because publishers and writers flock to metropolitan cities, I wondered why he is located in a small town. His answer was that he did not want his creativity to be killed by the soul-breaking noises of the city.
The office of his book publishing company, Vesta Publications that he runs no more, was a gathering place for friends and authors who happened to cross the city while going or returning from Montreal and Toronto to stop by to share their experiences. He used to arrange wine and cheese parties and readings for poets. It seems he choses characters for his writing from these visitors.
As publisher, he never hesitated to give a chance to any deserving beginner. If you ask, he will say: "If I don't, how we are going to get new crop of writers. Someone has to do that. After all, I was also a beginner one day."
Stephen Gill had a fair number of challenges to handle. He handled them well. It seems, Canada is where he belongs because Canada is the land of multi cultures where several religions coexist. He is one of the few authors who were born in India and have adjusted perfectly in the West. That is what comes out in his writing.
Stephen Gill often visits the land where he was born. He fumes when he witnesses poverty and a slow improvement in the field of religious bigotry. He finds a wide disparity between the land of his birth and the land of his adoption.
Stephen Gill was a successful book publisher and editor of Writer's Lifeline, an international publication for writers. He is also a successful writer and an impressive speaker. He is active with several organizations of writers and peace. In addition, he contributes articles and poems regularly to several publications in India, Pakistan, Canada and The United States. He is always ready to help writers in every possible way. He is often invited abroad to speak and to present his poetry on social concerns, the main subject of his writing. He is also a good friend with unusual sense of integrity. He spreads the fragrance of friendship everywhere wherever he can and the jurisdiction of his friendship is not confined to one nation or continent.
Stephen is in tunes with both the East and the West. A man of restless soul, he was born in the Panjab, the Land of Five Rivers, known for exuberant and self-sacrificing people who love intensely. To me, Stephen Gill is an example to himself. He has been decorated with several national and international awards. He is down to earth in spite of those deserving honours.