For those even remotely associated or interested in stage and radio drama scenario of Jammu, Santosh Sangra needs no introduction. Considered the doyenne of drama in city, Santosh’s journey has seen both the extremes- fair share of struggles as well as unparalleled success in the field and respect among the fraternity. Santosh’s journey, which has a new chapter added written by her with the pen, looks very similar to a sinusoidal wave certainly makes for an interesting read.
Born in a small village Kakri near famous tourist destination Mansar in Samba to a Tehsildar father, Santosh admits that her childhood was a better memory. Riding horses, speaking confidently on public platforms was a boon to Santosh from otherwise a rather conservative family. The craving for making my own identity started soon as Santosh shares, “Although I was proud to be his daughter but always craved to make my own identity. Looking back at time, I would say that the bug to find purpose of life as well as to have an identity got into my mind in that period only.”
Living in a place like hers has certain more boons and close proximity to Mother Nature was one of them. She didn’t realize when she start to synchronize her own voice with that of birds’ melodies that reverberated in the air, or the burble of the river flowing backyard whose music only Santosh could decipher. “I knew I wanted to be a singer and it proved to be a right choice at the age of 12 when I completed my performance, singing and acting, amidst roaring applause and cheering from audience in a play “Shakuntla” in a school function,” she tells.
However, the desire was trodden before it could bud. The conservative family while provided her with best of facilities and even more, did not give Santosh the liberty to pursue her dreams. Realizing that she would not be allowed, Santosh recollected strength to dream again, trying to live life her way by becoming a doctor. She even applied and got selected in an Ayurvedic College back then but the luck didn’t change this time too, as she wasn’t permitted to pursue the same one the reason that the institution had co-education system!
What lied ahead of her was marriage when she was barely 18. The new house was bigger than the earlier one and again, while it had everything in abundance, the freedom to pursue dreams was still something unheard of. “From a conservative family, I was married to an equally conservative household. I was so disappointed with everything around me that at times, I thought of making a compromise and dig my dreams somewhere deep in my heart. However, something kept me going on and I am glad it did,” shares Santosh.
In the struggle of doing something creative in live, something that would give her an identity of her own, something that would be her purpose for life, she didn’t realize when 6 years later, she had become mother to three children. It was then she told herself, Enough! “I decided that it is my final chance to get out of these four walls of my house and hundred others to do what I have been wanting to all my life. There was resistance but it only made me grow stronger in my resolve. It was in 1972 that the journey begun with radio,” Santosh recalls.
Over the years, Santosh has gained a reputation for herself which only a few enjoy in the field. With over 500 radio plays, 220 stage performances, around 48 Television serials and many other achievements to her credits, Santosh has proved her mettle with exemplary acting which has established her as one of the best actors to come in this field ever. Santosh has managed to carve out a niche for herself, the most of which can be credited to her bold roles which are often melancholic. “I cry on stage and I am not afraid to make my audience cry. Just like this land, even our souls needs to be watered and I believe any form of expression, should have that capacity,” exclaims Santosh.
Playing bold roles, which majority didn’t dare to take up in that time, Santosh has acted on the stage with many legends, including current MoS PMO Dr. Jitendra Singh, as she claims. Santosh’s good work has got her work in many commercial films as well, the major one among them being Lakeer, Guggi Maar Duaari, Reet, Ziddi Maahi and Chanchlo. On her life, as many as six documentaries and short films have been made in the past. Of numerous accolades and awards resting on her shelf, there are multiple trophies of Best Actress awards and Lifetime achievement awards among over hundreds of trophies.
With such a glorious legacy to her name, it only made people intrigued when Santosh decided to venture into writing a few years ago. “I had a thing for writing right from the beginning but that couldn’t come up earlier as I didn’t want yet another heart break. I wrote my first story in Hindi in the year 1966. Titled ‘Haveli’, the story expressed my feeling when I experienced life at my In-laws’ place. In the beginning of this decade, I thought to myself of writing more often and this is how things unfolded,” she tells.
Santosh’s first book ‘Kali Ganga’ that came out in the year 2011 is a collection of 17 short stories in Dogri. A compilation of living stories, the book was applauded by each and all from the literary fraternity as well as the common readers alike for exhibition of noteworthy skill in narrating the hard facts of life in a simple but absorbing tell-tale style. The stories revolved around various issues faced by women in our society which are highlighted well in stories like Shikar, Haveli, Suhag Sundur, Kali Ganga and Mansi. But one particular story that got Santosh appreciation from everyone was “Lammi Duari” which was about the pangs of injustice and insensitivity to sentiments related to women in the present age and time.
Five years later, Santosh came out with her second book in 2016 under the title ‘Antkaran ki Quaid’. Again a collection of 16 captivating short stories in Dogri, through the book Santosh touched female issues as also their problems and urged for forward movement. Most of these stories are real life stories inspired from people around Santosh, or those she had encountered in her life.
“These stories are more than just narration of tales. They are a part of my heart, related to me in one way or the other. ‘Lawaraas’ is the expression of the feelings that went through me when my son got a green card in Ireland. ‘Doonga Khoo’ is the story of a lady I met in Gajansoo who had to move to Pakistan during partition leaving one of her sons behind, here in India. When she gets to meet that son here on a visit, what goes through her heart and mind, considering her other son is in Pakistan and both of these sons serve in the armies of the two nations. Similarly ‘Superman’ tells the tale of why every woman deserves a superman in her life that would keep her from falling,” Santosh shares. She mentions other favourite stories of her from the book in Nama Aasman, Talash, Jabarbata, Anusthan, Banjaare, Antakaran Di Quaid, Guarantee Card and Ek Hor Maheeshasur.
“Women are the foundation of our society. When I visited Dubai last year, I saw people getting amazed by the jaw-dropping height of the building. Some of them were asking some others of the height and the floor. I was more interested in knowing how strong the foundation of the building was. Only when the foundation is strong, you can build up on it. The role of women is similar to the foundation of these buildings. They are truly the foundation of the society without whose emancipation, things would crumble,” she explains.
Being a writer herself, does Santosh reads as much? “I have read the book of life, what more do I need to read. What I write comes from within, from my experiences inspired by the happenings around me. But yes, I do read sometimes though there is no particular book or author that is favourite to me,” she answers.
Santosh despite her remaining busy with a score of things, makes it a point to do her bit for the society. She has been made the chairperson of the temple in her locality where she has taken steps for bettering of the society. Of the milk that people bring to dedicate on the idol (Linga) of Lord Shiva, she often suggests people to donate the milk to orphan kids and other needy people, instead. She has also placed multiple boards in the temple premises, urging people to donate blood and helping the needy.
So what does the future hold for Santosh? “My third book is completed and will be released sooner rather than later. It goes by the name Vichaar Aushaad and it is a story of finding one self amidst the complexities of life. I am hopeful readers would like it,” Santosh answers.