While growing up, we all were asked what we want to become in life. Some answered ‘Pilot’, some ‘Doctor’ and some ‘Scientist’. However, our protagonist for this article would often put his parents in stress, answering ‘Everything’ to the question. Today, his parents are not stressed at all, as not only the boy had kept his words, trying everything while at it, but also making a good name in each of these field. He is Dr. Varun Suthra.
An Ayurvedic doctor by profession, Varun has a multifaceted persona to boot with. While he is respected among the medical fraternity, the admiration only increases for the poet Varun, playwright Varun, journalist Varun, activist Varun, humourist Varun or, in our case, the author Varun. With over six years of experience in both print and electronic media, Varun has worked with The Washington Post, being a Fellow with the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Charkha Foundation (Sanjay Ghose Media Fellowship-2013). His contribution in sensitising people on degradation of environment and threat to wildlife and its aftermaths, leading to popular Save My Tawi campaign which forced the Jammu Municipal Corporation to prohibit its age old practice of dumping the city sewerage directly into the river, has been significant. His challenges to state wildlife department on various assertions were proved successful and Varun has also the distinction of tracing the occurrence of rare species Steppe Eagle in the Jammu region. This young lad from the city has certainly earned a name for himself in everything he has tried his hands on, true to his words as eight years old boy.
Later last year, Varun came out with his maiden book, ‘Purane Rishte Naye Ehsaas’, a collection of thirteen stories in Hindi. The book, having gained popularity thanks to his unique style of storytelling, influenced by multiple aspects of his personality, has successfully established Varun as a writer to look out for, in years to come.
As we got into a conversation with Varun, the insights were amazing, to say the least. In this exclusive interview, Varun shares the most candid details of his journey so far. Here are the excerpts from the conversation.
Tell us a little about yourself; your journey of life so far.
I had been a curious child and a keen observer all this while who couldn’t resist from asking questions, so much so that my mother suggested me to make a habit to pen down my observations, feelings and queries. I think that was the best companion given to me which still accompanies me. While it is a bit hazy as to how these things exactly took place but before I could realize, I started enjoying writing and performing, at a very young age. I still remember the efforts it took to convince the school management to perform a play with my team, which was my creation, when I was in fourth standard at Kendriya Vidyalaya Jyotipuram.
I believe my family contributed significantly in scripting this journey for me. My father, who was trained in classical music and active in field, had already exposed me to the stage and a conducive environment at home always supported. So with time my interests grew more and varied. I kept writing as well as performing even after making it to Ayurveda Medical College in Jammu. I feel blessed as I could follow my joy and passion and always convey gratitude to almighty and society, which gave me the opportunity.
It was my passion for writing that I did Post Graduation in Journalism and Mass Communication, something entirely different from the medical field. It was purely out of my interest- the same reason that I later worked with leading print and electronic media houses in the country.
It is not every day that we come across a doctor turn into a Journalist and then a writer. How did this happen?
I personally do not like myself to be confined to certain professional limits and always try to keep myself away from tags. For me, the uncertainties of life are its actual blessings. People try to be certain and sure of things, I think that calls for boredom and kills the joy and passion of living. I am still the same curious child as I mentioned who is enjoying the same game so all these are titles which I received and will keep receiving in my journey. For instance, my urge to perform on stage made me playwright because I was most comfortable performing my own creations. So far five of my plays are published of which two are full length.
We need to be more than what our degrees declare us to be. One should look for something more. I never liked people tagging art, culture and sports in schools as ‘Extra Curricular Activities’. I feel this is a grave tragedy. These elements of the life are part of curriculum and nothing could be tagged as Extra.
Tell us about your early writings and projects?
Before coming up with my maiden book, I wrote stage plays, poems and stories. Playwriting is always fun for me as I directly start with play format including dialogues and directions. My association with theatre gave me a better insight of writing plays as I could envision the play being staged while writing. The place, Jyotipuram, where my entire schooling happened had an advantage that it did not have cinemas; instead we had an auditorium for theatricals. So majority of time was spent in preparing for plays and being groomed by intellectuals and theatre lovers. Some of my good plays, appreciated by one and all were ‘Hadd Se Zyada’, ‘Raaste Aur Bhi Hain’, ‘Gunaateet’ and ‘Hum Aise Kyun Hain’.
Tell us more about your book- Purane Rishtey Naye Ehsaas. What tales are you telling through your stories? Please describe in detail.
‘Purane Rishte Naye Ehsaas’ is a collection of 13 stories in Hindi. These stories allow the reader to find a subtle connection of an individual with the surroundings and help in realising its relationship with the society. In all thirteen stories, readers find themselves in one or other character, which they have been playing in our lives too. Most importantly simplicity of telling the story makes it quite easier for the reader of any class to develop a relation with the characters and events. To give readers an idea, I shall explain a few stories in brief.
The story ‘Samadhan’ raises some very serious questions about slogans of eradicating the child labour. Protagonist of the story is a middle aged woman with all solidarity for a child labour and wants to change his fortune but finds herself on crossroads after beholding the ground reality. The story just shows mirror to many who just follow slogans to showcase their activism without knowing the deeper layers of issues.
The story ‘Purane Rishtey Naye Ehsaas’, reveals the pain of partition which still remains alive in millions of hearts even after seven decades of India –Pakistan division. Another story ‘Rangeen Gudiya’ is an attempt at unfolding some layers of mind of a small girl. Readers would definitely get convinced that how in the contemporary societal structure, a small girl can hardly get any recognition of her dreams in Indian middle class. Other stories like ‘Photo-Journalist’, ‘Teen Betiyaan’, ‘Nikamma’, ‘Shikha’, and ‘Patla-Khiladi’ are like a river which keeps a constant flow despite passing through a varied path.
My own experience in journalism and closest association while working with Photojournalist friends made me to write the story Photo Journalist and I have tried to underline two contrasting aspects of their life. In all the stories, however, I have left the judgment on readers’ discretion.
Do you read as much? Who is your favourite author and what is your favourite book?
I have been a voracious reader and it has been a part of my observations. My associations, acquaintances and interests allowed me to explore works from across the cultures and eras. I have thoroughly read Ramayana, Mahabharata, Panchatantra, Upanishdas, Plays of Kalidasa-both Sanskrit and translated versions. Also, I have read western authors including Tolstoy, Guy De Maupasant, Chevkov, Paulo Coelho, Mark Twain, Shakespeare, Milton, Rabindra Nath Tagore and many others.
While there is no particular favourite as for me, good work make an author great and not the other way around. As far as genres are concerned, books on spiritual realizations appeal me a lot.
What is the hardest and easiest thing about writing?
For me writing has never been a work of exercise it is something that flows through me so when I write, it’s always a joy and a process that takes me to another level which ironically I cannot describe in words. Being in the flow is the easiest thing while finding that flow when I cannot is the most difficult thing for me about writing.
What are the different honours you have been conferred upon for your writing?
While I am still far from the more famous honours and awards in the field of literature, I must make a mention of three awards- Best story writer- in won in three consecutive years in the University of Jammu. These honours are more than merely trophies for me as I have very fond memories of each of these. Varsity used to hold on-spot short story writing competition where participants were given a topic on the spot and they have to come up with a story in 90 minutes. Those 90 minutes used to feel as best moments of my life. In those 90 minutes, I did not have to write like usual exams rather it was an opportunity to express my own self completely.
What is your greatest stress? How do you deal with it? How do you relax? What are your hobbies?
I would not name it as stress but yes, sometimes, I feel sad, a phase of my life I don’t really appreciate. And that felling of sadness or gloom brings me closer to my own self. With time I have learnt that sadness is equally important to explore more, to know more of one and self, and to appreciate the happy moments.
I love travelling, playing outdoor games, attending light and classical music concerts. I am regular visitor of gym. Also, I rarely leave any good movie unseen. My favourite movies come mostly from Hollywood because of their content and quality making, accompanied by some really good Bollywood movies.
How would you describe your multifaceted personality in brief?
As I said earlier, being multifaceted means not be confined in a particular stream and keeping myself free and open for new opportunities and challenges, new places, new people and new environments, that brings out the aspects of my life, newer to me even. Life is to keep exploring your own self and this is what I plan to do, all my life.
Is there something about you that people might not really know?
I am a day dreamer and I visualise so many things in my dreams which I later convert into creative writings. The other thing not many people know is that I can sleep anytime in 24 hours.
What are you working on at the moment? Tell us more about your upcoming work.
Currently, I am working on a novel which would hopefully be out for publication very soon. The work in question was started by me as a story actually but due to elaborations, now I am planning to turn it into a novel.