“I do not regret the pain and agony I faced in my early days, shuffling from one refugee camp to other, for I believe that has made me a stronger person, in nearly every aspect of life. Of course it was not like this always but when I look back, I only smile at how my yesterday has helped in shaping a better today for me. Maybe it was just my destiny, my Maktub,” said Shailender Singh with twinkling eyes and the smile of a man at peace. If not for the man himself, who could tell the beauty of that smile to hide all the struggles he had gone through his life. Maybe I was expecting some signs of tiredness in his voice, some complaining expressions on his face. And who wouldn’t? After all, for someone whose entire childhood was spent in about half a dozen of refugee camps at different places, it is almost astonishing how he has no complaints towards life. But I must admit I never felt happier with my expectations failing and falling apart.
The story of Civil Engineer-turned-MBA-turned-Police Officer-turned-Sahitya Akademi winner Writer Shailender Singh is as intriguing as anything. He was born in Chhamb, presently a part of Pakistan administered Kashmir, only for his family to be dislocated and spend coming years in tents at 5 different refugee camps, before settling down in Akhnoor where he completed his schooling. When things started to look better for him as he joined then Regional Engineering College, Srinagar, the unrest in Kashmir in the decade of 1990 forced him to leave his college midcourse and resume studies elsewhere. An MBA degree holder in Finance from 1993 batch of Jammu University, Singh worked as an Assistant Engineer before joining Jammu and Kashmir Police services as Deputy Superintendent in 1999.
His stint as the Cop started with something no Police man would expect of. In his probation period itself, he survived a suicide attack in Poonch. However, this did not deter him in any way. His resolve became stronger as he became the first gazetted officer to go through the elite Commando training in BSF, serving as the Incharge of the Commandos protecting the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. As he was promoted as Superintendent of Police, his good work in service was rewarded with DGP’s Commendation Medal in the year 2004. It only raises our curiosity levels so much as to what made him take interest in writing. We ask Singh, currently serving as the Senior Superintendent of Police, why.
“I had this habit of writing diary since my school days, which only accentuated during the college period. It went on and off for next few years but was revived in real sense after 2005. As I saw different people, different situations, I wanted to express more. The job schedule allowed writing in bits and pieces only but I continued my efforts. I remember it was the page 18th of my short stories collection where I got badly stuck on a word- Toala. An open kitchen enclosed within walls made of soil in rural areas, I failed miserably to find its equivalent in English even after consulting a number of friends. It was the moment of realization that I would be better off writing in my mother tongue Dogri, as it would enable me to express exactly what I want to convey,” Singh explains his switch to Dogri as the medium of writing.
His course of writing a short story soon changed into that of a novel as striving for bettering the story, Singh’s continuous reviewing added more to the phenomenon that his novel was to be. But like all Dogri writers, Singh’s greater struggle was in finding a suitable publisher for it. “It is almost impossible to find a good publisher for Dogri books and same happened with me. The limited readership of Dogri books makes it economically unviable for publishers. This left me only with the option of self-publishing which I did in 2010 and this is how ‘Hashiye Par’ happened,” he shares.
And what more can one ask from his debut novel? The novel, revolving around the life of a poor fisherman Madan, gained popularity gradually but steadily and soon Shailender became a well-known name in the Authors fraternity. Along with many things, it was the beauty of Dogri words used by Singh, many of which are even extinct from modern-day Dogri language, which made his work reach unprecedented heights.
Leaving other competitors behind, Singh won the Sahitya Akademi Award for literature (Dogri language) for Hashiye Par in the year 2014. The honourable award was followed by another award the same year- the first Ram Nath Shastri Memorial Award. It was not yet over for Singh as the novel also became the first Dogri Novel to be translated and published by the Oxford University Press in the English language. “For a book which hardly got any publishers in the first place to reach this far, is happy and sad at the same time. I am happy with the book getting translated and published by Oxford University Press but the sad reality is that even this much success won’t help the debutant Dogri writers in finding publishers,” Singh speaks, showing how even in his success he is more worried about the problems faced by Dogri literature.
So, is Singh, who authored another book in Sewadhani in 2012, not happy with the success he has achieved? NO, he is. “The concept of success seems very funny to me. On the outside, one might seem successful but within, he is already worried about the future. The goals would have already shifted ahead. For me, it was never about success and hence it doesn’t concern me much. I am happy and thankful that people have loved my work so much and I am committed to provide them with more quality work in future also,” he explains.
Of course, such a splendid journey had required loads of motivation and Singh credits it to his persistence. “I have always liked this one thing in myself which is to not concede to difficult situations. Maybe it was my destiny and the hardships that I faced which made me so but it is really a great quality to have.” Singh doesn’t forget to thank his parents and grandparents who supported him throughout this journey.
His current projects include multiple stories, one of which involves the depiction of policemen working in terrorism affected areas of our state, while other focus on social justice and issues faced by the marginalised section of the society. He also has some sound advice to give to aspiring writers. “Write in any language which provides for a rich flow of your thoughts. It is a state of mind that one language is better than other. One needn’t wait and instead focus on writing. Also, try not to write to impress anyone or please anyone. It is only the truth that should come out of your pen.”