Born in a small village Odhan in Budhal area of Rajouri district, Susheel was the youngest son and elder only to a sister among his 7 siblings which later became the reason of his developing interest in writing. He shares, “While walking 45 Kilometers to school and back was common to all of us, being the youngest had its perks as well. I didn’t have much to do at home and the spare time was utilized in reading whatever I found. To be honest, there was not much I could have explored in a remote village like mine but I managed the best I could. Before I could realize I was writing; not something I would be proud of today, but nonetheless quite good for someone of my age.”
As young Susheel moved to Jammu for further education after 5th standard, it took only a few months before his teachers took notice of his knack for writing and started encouraging him. An introvert by nature, Susheel was not at utmost ease learning the nuisances of life in city and had great difficulty in making friends, a trait that hasn’t gone away even today. It was only when he moved to Sri Ranbir Higher Secondary School, one of the renowned institutions in state that Susheel formally started writing poems and Ghazals.
Beginning writing in Urdu, Susheel’s first poem came in at the age of 14 years only. The poem ‘Titli’ was penned down by him in 9th standard and won him accolades from who’s who of literary scene of that time. The poem’s appreciation only rose with time and Susheel was published in major newspapers as well as magazines of that time. Not only this, Susheel also got the opportunity to recite the same for All India Radio in the year 1979.
However, things were not as easy as they seemed for Susheel. While the journey as a writer was going smooth as silk in years to come, the implications that came with it were not so smooth. Forced and bind with the limitations that frequent Radio Schedules and Literary organizations posed on him, Susheel took a sabbatical and went back to his village after completing his graduation.
Susheel explains what it was, “I am a staunch believer of the fact that poetry is something magical. It is not done, it happens on its own. I cannot speak for others but for me, it was like this only. The thoughts that crossed my mind, the things I observed around me acted as a seed sown in the soil of my heart. Once the seeds start germinating, there is a creation- of roots, stem, leaves, flowers and fruits. Same is the case with Poetry. You cannot explain the process, the power that drives the whole thing. I cannot explain it. It just happens.”
He continues, “I loved the appreciation I received from my readers and my listeners but then I was asked to write more and more. While I understand what they wanted and won’t blame them but that was not how I function. I had to wait for poetry to happen to me and that took time. It was a reason I moved back to village and started my small scale silent writing there.” There was nothing small about Susheel’s writing though as he wrote close to 500 Ghazals and poems in that period but didn’t publish anything.
The life brought another turn-around for Susheel in 1992 when Susheel met one of the most prolific Dogri writers (Late) Kunwar Viyogi. An impromptu meeting, as Susheel admits he didn’t even know of Viyogi before that, was followed by a casual conversation in which Viyogi was so impressed by him that he invited him to his office the next day. On Viyogi’s advice, Susheel tried his hands in Dogri. The response was great for someone as new and inexperienced in Dogri and this further motivated Susheel to focus more. However things turned out bitter soon when Susheel objected to a Dogri writer’s criticism of one’s writing based on his appearance and native.
“You always judge a poet by his work and not by the clothes he wears or village he comes from. I fell out of favour with Dogra writers’ fraternity soon after that altercation and went on self-proclaimed exile for 14 years,” he shares. Susheel didn’t recite or published anything after 1994 till he made a comeback in the year 2007. However, what he did in these 14 years was something not many would have thought of. He researched the Dogra literature at lengths and read almost every Dogri poetry collection that was there for anyone to read besides that in Hindi and Urdu as well.
He was welcomed with warm hugs and open arms upon his comeback in 2007. While his initial association was with Adbi Kunj, Sham Talib, the then President of forum upon listening to Susheel’s Dogri creations convinced him to re-enter the sphere of Dogri poetry. The reception Dogri Sanstha, the very same organization Susheel had broken the ties with 14 years ago, showered upon him was overwhelming. “They gave me so much love when I went back there and recited my first poem that I forgot everything that happened 14 years ago. They didn’t even force me to write frequently and understood my psyche very well and I am happy that I got back there. The love has only continued all these years. It is unbelievable that without having any published work as recent as 2016, they loved me and my work so much that I never felt like I have no book to my credit,” he shares.
It was on insistence of fellow writers only that Susheel decided to bring forth the choicest of his poems in the form of book last year. This book that came out by the name ‘Maun Lakeeran’ consisted 44 selected poems from over 1500 poems Susheel had compiled over the years. The book was appreciated widely by readers across the state and is considered one of the finest works of poetry ever in history of Dogri literature. Bagging a thumbs-up from finest critics of the language, the book went on to register its name in the golden words when it was awarded the prestigious Prof Ram Nath Smriti Puruskar for the year 2017, a couple of weeks ago.
“We all confine ourselves within certain lines. Knowingly or unknowingly, these lines start governing our lives. We are so accustomed to these lines that we forget that we can live beyond the restrictions these boundaries put on us and moving out of these restrictions is considered a sin for many of us. Through my poems in ‘Maun Lakeeran’, I have tried highlighting such lines and also emphasized on the fact that without breaking these lines, we cannot seek truth, defeating the whole purpose of this life we are endowed with,” Susheel tells about ‘Maun Lakeeran’.
“There is not much difference between life and poetry if you ask me. Life is a poem in itself. The air that blows is a poem in itself and so is the sound of a waterfall; the breaths we take are no different from a poem and what are our heartbeats, but a poem. Everything around us is a poem. Poetry is driven by two things- Love and Pain. These are the very same things that drive our life. The power of love and power of pain can do wonders as great as one can think of. These very things form the catalyst for a poem to be born,” Susheel makes of life and poetry.
With a persona as intriguing as they come, Susheel’s insights about life and its various aspects make us want to delve deeper into conversation with him but we manage to bring the discussion back to business. When asked about the best compliment he received for his work, he smiles before speaking, “If you consider my journey, the criticism I received played a greater role in my life than the compliments. If done right, criticism is better than compliments any day. But if you have to ask me, I would consider one I received from Prof. Lalit Magotra when upon hearing my poem he was reminded of Late legend Kehri Singh Madhukar.”
These thoughts reflect when we ask him of the award he had received recently, “Of course, this is such a great honour for me to have been felicitated with this award. But very frankly, there are things bigger than trophies and medals. My biggest award was the love I received from fellow writers and readers alike, even before I was published formally. This trophy is a shaded tree in my journey. While I can rest here for a while, there is a lot still left to walk.”
The story behind his intriguing pen name- Begana is surprisingly very simple and innocent. “As a young kid, I used to read writers with names like Deewana, Mastana, Jagana and likes. I thought it to be necessary to have a pen name like them to be established as a good writer. So I chose Begana. Though it was a innocent decision, with time I have found it to be right as without being ‘Begana’ to the outer world, one cannot seek the solace within his inner self,” he reveals.
“For poetry to be heart-touching, there are 3 basic qualities one must have. First is the painting- one needs to be a good with thoughts as a painter is with colors. Second is Music- the words must flow in same rhythm as a songs flow in. Third and most important of all is command on Mother Tongue. Since we use our language almost every day, it becomes even more difficult to find words from it which would touch one’s heart, effortlessly.” Susheel has some insights to share with our readers.
He has been a regular part of radio broadcasting for Jammu Centre of All India Radio and has recorded over 180 programs so far. The majority of these 180 programs have been recitation of his poems while the list has also included some of his critical analysis and other write-ups as well. With over 1500 poems and Ghazals sitting in his library, why hasn’t he come out with more of them in print, was a question that bothered us and Susheel answered, “I believe in Quality over Quantity. If not for this principle, I wouldn’t have gone through so much I have in past. If I were to write just for the sake of writing, I could have been the author of at least 20 books by now and trust me when I say this. I cannot compromise on quality and that’s the reason for just one book to my name.”
However, he assures that there is nothing to be fret over as later this year, he will be coming out with another book. A collection of Dogri Ghazals, something Susheel considers being his first love, the book will contain some of the choicest of his creations. With the magic that we have experienced reading his first book, we can only say that there is a lot to look up to coming from this gem.