Of many we have met in this biik house, everyone has his or her own story to share, something which is not confined to their books, their poems, their stories but goes beyond that, expressing the journey of their life they took to reach where they are. Jammu and Kashmir, a land of unparalleled talent backed by a distinguished legacy of art, culture and traditions, has never been short of such stories and such heroes. Shakunt Deepmala is one of them, who have carved out a niche for herself in the literary scenario of the state by her writing, all these years.
Shakunt comes from one of the most influential families of its time as her father was Wazir-e-Wizarat (District Commissioner) of Poonch before partition and later retired as Assistant Commissioner Revenue. Shakunt credits her inclination towards literature to her parents, “My father, being an educated man himself, was very much particular about getting us all well educated and thus, where ever he was posted, he used to contact the authorities there and get good books for himself and us siblings. He had his own library, which at the very least can be compared to a fairly big library of this time. My mother, although not much educated, was deeply spiritual. She had great knowledge of Sanskrit and all of Hindi Legends were known to her so impressively that she could recite all they contained at any time. She used to write poetry, which gave me what I call my first inspiration towards writing.”
While her poems started getting published when she was only 13 years old, the venture into higher education not only gained her a broader prospective and knowledge, her writing skills improved big time as she admits. Shukant is a Masters in Hindi from renowned Aligarh University and has served the education department as a History teacher. She completed her Masters in Dogri also, later.
The big shift in Shakunt’s life, which drew her more towards writing, came in early years of her job when she got paralysed. Shakunt shares, “I remained in bed for almost nine years, which were dreadful to remember even now. From being brought up to be independent and free, to suddenly not being able to move without a support, it broke me down. Those nine years also gave me some of the greatest realizations of my life. It was more drawn towards writing and I reached a stage where I could, without any doubt, call myself a writer, solely.”
She doesn’t forget to thank her sisters Swarnkanta Sharma and Lalita Sharma, who stood by her throughout the struggle. “While my elder sister, Swarnkanta has a huge contribution towards me being a writer, both my sisters supported me, unconditionally. They left no stone unturned, even letting go of their ambitions and dreams just to be there for me. I am grateful beyond words, to both of them,” she speaks.
Right after recovering from illness, her increased involvement in writing field caught attention of many and she was made General Secretary of Hindi Sahitya Sadan, only to later serve as president of the organisation. She later became president of another prestigious publication Punjabi Adabi Sangam, along with many other organisations like Akhil Bhartiya Sahitya Sangam and Yuva Hindi Lekhak Sangh. Shakunt’s work, in form of poems and short stories, was and is still published in many publications, Nami Chetna, Shiraza, Milaap to name a few. Her stories are also, from time to time, included in many books published by Sahitya Akademi, Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Language, Shri Mata Vaishno Devi University and others.
Shakunt’s first book came in 1994, a collection of 15 Hindi short stories. The book named ‘Kitij Laut Aayegi’ was well praised by all language aficionados and established her as the writer who delicately paints the women sensibilities in simple but impressive style to unveil many social dogmas. The story was so powerful, based on the expanding terrorism in Kashmir, that it was translated into Urdu and published in ‘Shayar’, a major Urdu publication.
While her book was much appreciated, it still took Shakunt another 21 years to write her next. We asked her why to which she replies, “I am someone who writes almost every day and then releases it as soon as possible through various mediums. This provides for a quicker and better mechanism of feedback. That is why, whatever I wrote before or after ‘Kitij Laut Aayegi’ was not held to be compiled into a book. 150 pages or 5 pages, the quality of writing still triumphs over quantity.”
Shakunt’s other book was ‘Sukkhan’, her first collection of Dogri short stories was published in 2015 and was a raging hit among Dogri writers and readers fraternity. The book contained 17 short stories in Dogri, some of the most popular among them are Bhutan, Bomb, Pinjra, Jinn, Chachu Nai Aaya, Khushboo Dharti Dhi, Preeto, Haisee Da Manasa and Prerena, and is considdered as a very extensive canvas covering almost all the regions of Duggar focusing on variety of subjects and illustrations the variegated facts of life.
“I always try to cover things prevailing in our society, keeping intact their rawness as much as possible. For example, ‘Bhutan’ is a psychological story of a little lower caste girl who suffers the pangs as untouchable and other superstitions. She is discriminated by other children in the play field, something much prevailing in our society as well. Similarly, ‘Khreela Fathia’ also depicts the fear of terrorism in the hearts of the people, their enforcement for their own willingness at any cost. This is something I feel my readers can connect with and this is what I strive to and will strive to do in future as well,” reveals Shakunt.
As a testimony of the quality of her work, Shakunt was awarded the ‘Ram Nath Shastri Smriti Puruskar’ for 2016, an award given annually for the best first book of Dogri written by an author in the preceding five years. Sahitya Akademi New Delhi has approved the translation of the book in Hindi which is going to be released next year.
Shakunt, who lives with her sisters, is currently working on another book of short stories in Dogri which she expects to get published next year. While her work is certainly impressive, it is her journey to the zenith she has reached which is definitely more impressive.