In this interview series where we ask few questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small it doesn’t matter what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walks of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.
Mumbai-based, Sunil Sharma has published 14 books, some solo; some joint. A recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award 2012. His poems were published in the UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree-2015. Following are his views on some of the questions we asked.
Tell us something about yourself?
My parents were hard-working and honest folks based in Ghaziabad, near Delhi. They were teachers and like good teachers, taught their own kids the importance of fine values in life and conduct. The home was the fountain spring of empowering humanist-liberal ideas. My father was kind, loving and caring, a poet by heart; mother was a teacher of drawing and painting, full of grit and optimism. It was, the house, an eclectic mix of tastes and disciplines–and my philosophical nursery for initial stages of growth. That kind of childhood and early youth is now a rare blessing. We were never commercial in outlook or deed. The household was primarily steeped in the literary culture. That early global exposure to the best of the world arts in a then small town shaped me up as a human being in a society transitioning from a colonial to an independent country. Those were different times altogether. That kind of general idealism is sorely missing. Things have changed beyond recognition in the new millennium everywhere. You no longer hear a Picasso being discussed in a middle-class Indian home. It is more about MBA and package and iPhone these days. Or, food and dresses or going abroad. As a nation, we have lost the previous innocence and embraced opportunism, cynicism and apathy as the guiding credo. It was not so in the decades of the simple 70s-80s when I grew up in a satellite town with–like peers and seniors –cosmopolitan views and pluralism, as a dominant, a given, not a problematic concept. We lived peacefully in a diversified society.
As head of an educational institution, what is the most important lesson you want your students to learn?
I completed my five-year term as a college principal on July 22. Taking a much-needed break from a punishing routine for few weeks, before I plunge again into another challenging assignment. As a teacher and administrator, my message is simple to the future republicans: Truth, honesty and integrity can never be replaced. Likewise, hard work, sincerity and loyalty count. Empathy is a virtue. Cultivate. Values lift us and make us real humans, not packages, destinations, positions and gadgets. Be genuine. Be faithful Do your dharma( duty) conscientiously. Rest will follow.
Tell us about some initiatives you took in your tenure as principal?
I made the students realize their creativity via various clubs like the poetry, photography, history, readers, youth, book review and through student research committee across the disciplines. Wall mags, discussion of story as a form, classics, etc. We could unlock creativity and make them connect with their inner child. A big achievement in a sterile learning environment through such extra-curricular endeavors
If you would be responsible for running the education and HRD ministry what would you do?
Anyway, let us enter the fantasy. I am there with the powerful babus in a huge office, insulated. Then I get my Einstein-moment (chances of getting it one out of zillion but it is a Peter Pan-land)! I hire the editor Siddharth as the chief innovator for the delayed and required overhaul. He hires fellow editors and other creatives and we have Harry Potters and other odd denizens, creating a magical realm where the child is not alienated from her surroundings and allowed to realize her full potential to alter the reality that makes us servile to the governing elites of the unjust world and dream up of better worlds that are possible in real time.
We unleash young imaginations–and magically transform the limitations into opportunities a la Potter and leave the restricted world into a creative space where antimonies like science vs. magic are not there and everything is our precious knowledge province…to be explored, mapped out and documented.
How would you encourage your students towards writing and literature?
Already discussed above. We are born creative; system makes us skeptic. We must turn inwards and tap into our inner self, look deep into the soul—and express the internal realities. Process the universe aesthetically…then scientifically sans setting up any such avoidable binary.
I often ask my students to watch the falling rain or setting/rising sun or flowers. They come up with beautiful poems and pieces. Creativity detoxifies. De-stresses. I ask them to speak to nature and books and movies–once that happens, magic happens.
What’s the source of inspiration for your literary works?
Humanity. The suffering one. The under-privileged. The disadvantaged. The Expelled!
They are the folks off the social radar. I want them back—re-inscribed into the social formation through the intervention of the fine arts. Get them rehabilitated into our collective psyche. It is a part of humanity that has been deleted from the official apparatuses; I want them recovered and restored. By registering their pain and hurt, I want to un-mute their beautiful voices and recognize them as equals, peers, partners. When God created them equal, how can we discriminate?
They are great human resource allowed to go waste. Iconic Mahasweta Devi did that. As humble disciples, we must follow the visionary writer that laid bare the heart of the tribal people and other minorities.
Earlier Gorky penned the lower depths so tenderly. Lorca stood up for a just world. So did Marquez. Why not we, as writers?
Why this obsession with glory, self, positions and prizes?
Why aspiration for fat checks and best-seller tag?
Are not we as a species become self-obsessed? Too narcissistic?
Should not poetry be liberated from coffeehouses? Brought to the pavements?
Especially, Indian context, the Indian English Poetry? And made more relevant?
Well, choices are ours.
Fame or service?
Money or pure delight of unpaid service of articulating the songs of the Silent Ones?
I prefer the latter.
This humanity is my master. I sing their humble songs.
And feel re-vitalized.
Your message for our readers?
Readers are the end users of. They are vital. I want them to be writers. We all are essentially readers reading signs.
As readers, we must patronize serious writing. Writing that challenges the status quo. Disruptive. Tumbling our old ways of seeing.
We must encourage writing that de-stabilizes complacence and organic thinking through serious art and leads us towards newer and enabling epistemes for a better world; a sustainable and green world sans any discrimination and violence; a world free of gender bias; a world that respects women, children, the elderly, the sick, the unemployed–a healthy and livable world.
A place where rabbits carry watches and caterpillars ask profound questions.
Where a Don Quixote tells us truths better than old academic tomes.
Finally, summing up, as writers/readers/ teachers/administrator/managers/ministers,
we have to be facilitators of a magical universe
where both realism and marvelous co-exist
as smooth elements–
opening up realms rare
mixing mystery with mundane
in most prosaic language.