This man is not only a great writer having won the awards at the highest level for his work in the field of literature, but a great inspiration for everyone among us. His life and his achievements leave one in awe of the dedicated hard work he had put in, despite suffering from Polio from his childhood. His stories leave readers mesmerized and bedazzled as they connect with them like no other. His work towards the ignored sections of the society would certainly make one feel how strong he is, against all the odds. But it is his humble, down-to-earth nature that invokes in one the utmost respect for someone who is literally sitting at the top of his field. He is Joginder Pal Saraf, more popularly known among the masses as Chhatrapal, who was recently awarded the Best Dogri Writer Award by Sahitya Akademi for 2016 for his short story collection `Cheta’.
Chhatrapal was born to a social worker father in Akhnoor. His being diagnosed with Polio at the age of 3 years was a cruelty to the family and Chhatrapal himself, but as he later realized, it had a larger role to play in what has been his splendid in the field of literature. He recollects, “For a kid to go through all that, must be unjust, to say the least. But then if I look at the bright side of the things, the restriction of movement also led me towards finding my passion, reading. I used to read very much everything one can think of. Even the paper bags made of newspaper pages were not spared. They were torn open from their joints and were saved as my bedtime reading. This made me an avid reader and the only sensible way one could take from here was of writing.”
The reading further increased as Chhatrapal became a regular visitor of libraries within and out of his school. An introvert by nature since childhood, the only way he found right for sharing what he felt was to write. And he wrote. All the sufferings he went through, all the things he was made to experience, all the expressions that he couldn’t give words all this while, these came beautifully as he made pen and paper his friends by 20th winter of his life. “When I was 20 years old, one of my stories ‘Lalitaditya Ke Martand’ was published in Dharamyug in 1970, a magazine which was arguably the biggest magazine in the entire Asia at that time with readers spread over the sub-continent. It was a great honour and I was appreciated by so many people who wrote letters to me and sent telegrams,” he narrates how he started his journey.
Chhatrapal continues, “As the readers also wrote to Dharamyug appreciating my work, Dharamveer Bharti, who was at the helm of affairs in magazine continuously encouraged me and asked me to write for them, something I did for many years to come. For someone of my age, and coming from a place where I was located, it was a big thing. People started knowing me and often asked me to write more.” Chhatrapal didn’t stop at Dharamyug only. As he used to write in Hindi at that time, his work got published in almost all the major publications of that era and in new era as well. The most notable of the names are Sarika, Nayee Kahaniyaan, Maya, Saptahik Hindustan, Hindi Express, Mela, Ravivar, Manorma, Probe India, Aaj Kal, Parag, Sun, Tribune, Tasveer, Navbharat Times, Shiraza, and many more.
Chhatrapal’s foray in Dogri started a few years later when another legend of Dogri literature, Pandit Ram Nath Shastri noticed his talent and suggested him to write in Dogri as well. What he brought to table in literary scenario of both these languages, Hindi and Dogri, was an altogether fresh style of expression, bringing out the psychological thought processes of the characters in a way never done before, and adding literary aesthetics unheard of to the traditional style of short story viz Tota Maina. His work besides being appreciated largely by one and all, also propelled him to new heights of success as he started piling up beautiful bundles of literary beauty at its best.
And then Chhatrapal decided to compile his short stories in form of books, starting a new chapter of success and glory. His first ever short story collection in Hindi titled ‘Roshni Se Door’ went on win the Hinditar Bhashi Hindi Lekhak Puraskar, the Best Writer Award for Hindi Writers of non-Hindi speaking areas, awarded by Central Directorate of Hindi, Government of India, New Delhi in the year 1982. To give a better idea of things how big an achievement it was in those times, Chhatrapal received the award money of 2500 Rupees which has grown up 40 times at Rupees One Lakh ever since!
Chhatrapal didn’t look back after this. An accomplished writer since past 47 years, he has been the author of 4 books till now, one in Hindi, ‘Roshni Se Door’ and 3 in Dogri, Tapu Da Aadmi, Cheta and Bol Toteya Bol, all of them being the collection of his short stories. Lest the numbers should mislead you, the total short stories he has written more than 130 short stories so far most of which have been awarded and appreciated widely. Besides his 4 books, has also translated 5 Books including National Award winning book like Kamleshwar’s Kitne Pakistan and Tagore’s Nouka Doobi into Dogri and Hindi.
While each of Chhatrapal’s work is a shining jewel in its own, the Kohinoor in his crown has to be ‘Cheta’. Published 40 years after his first book in Dogri came, ‘Cheta’ is one beautiful collection of 14 short stories, each of them so special in their own way. The book was awarded the Best Book Award in Dogri by Sahitya Akademi New Delhi for the year 2016, hailed as one of the best publication bringing out the mindset of characters. It was Chhatrapal’s second National Award in a row, as he also won Best Translation Award in Dogri for the year 2015. Besides these honours, Chhatrapal is also the recipient of Best Playwright Award from Jammu and Kashmir Academy for Art, Culture and Languages, Mohan Rakesh National Award for Best Manuscript of his stage play ‘Agni’ in 2005 from Sahitya Kala Parishad, New Delhi, Best Humorous Radio Play Award by Directorate General of All India Radio and of course, his first ever award from Central Directorate of Hindi, Government of India.
There is an interesting story to his pen name being Chhatrapal which he shares, “As I moved from Akhnoor to Jammu for my higher education, I put up with a relative of mine there for quite a few years. So, in one of my story for Dharmyug, I wrote about that relative, he being the protagonist. But then I didn’t want him to know that I had written that story. As he was a regular reader of Dharamyug, I sent the story by name of Chhatrapal, which went on to be my pen name ever since.”
Besides being a celebrated writer of this era, Chhatrapal has also been doing his bit for his fraternity. He is the President of Dogri Sanstha Jammu, one of the leading literary organization of the state and also a member of Advisory Board of Dogri in Sahitya Akademi New Delhi as well as on that of Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Being the son of a famous social worker and having been a victim himself, Chhatrapal has left no stone unturned in helping other specially-abled people like him. He is the president of Viklang Chhatra Trust he formed in 1980 which looks after the educational needs of handicapped students and also serves as the Secretary of Jammu Red Cross Home for Handicapped in Udheywala.
This is not all about the phenomenon that Chhatrapal has become today in Literature scene of the state, however. He joined Radio Kashmir Jammu as News-Reader-cum-Translator in 1976 and served there for 35 years before retiring Senior NRT. His association with Television is even more significant. Chhatrapal has scripted close to 2000 Television programs for DoorDarshan, including about 1100 documentaries on varying subjects like Art, Culture, Heritage, and Monuments for various channels and stations of DD. He has also done half a dozen Tele films, 115 short stories for various agencies and around 50 TV serials. A Masters of Arts by education himself, translation of Chhatrapal’s award winning story Cheta has been included in the English textbook, along with two stories of O’Henary and Prem Chand prescribed by some universities across country for first year students of B.A., B.Sc. and B.Com courses.
Speaking of his future writing, Chhatrapal has quite a lot in the pipeline. Of his next two books in Hindi, one is based on his awarded play ‘Agni’ while the other is a collection of 101 humour writings, ‘Kuch Na Samjhe Khuda Kare Koi’. In Dogri also, he has been working on three books in his characteristic ‘Tota-Maina’ series.