Shashank Singh, 16, Author, interviewed
The entire world is hit hard by this pandemic, its havoc can be witnessed everywhere, life at a halt, movements frozen. Yet creativity is making its way through all the hurdles and saving itself from suffocation. It is the story of one such young and a bright photon of light that has begun its journey in the endless space of writers, poets and storytellers.
Shashank Singh, 16, from the ‘City of Joy’ (Kolkata, India), is all set to take the literary world by storm with his debut Anthology of short stories: ‘The Dying Lamp’. This 10th-grade student from La Martiniere for Boys School, Kolkata, has won the Desmond Shaw Award for the Best English Composition. Compassionate for writing since Class 2, an astrophysics enthusiast and a die-hard anime fan, Shashank has shared his journey and his ambitions in the latest interview with The Equator. What inspired you to write this book?Several poems, real-life anecdotes and contemporary circumstances have inspired me to pen this eBook. In particular, James Patrick Kinney’s poem Cold Within motivated me to compose the third section of this anthology. I must also mention Suryakant Tripathi Nirala’s poem Bhikshuk(Beggar/Mendicant), which inspired me to pen the stories on poverty and fundamental human wants.
In October 2018, my parents and I were returning from a tour of the city. I presume that the Pujas were on. Anyway, while returning, my father spotted an emaciated couple sleeping on the opposite side of the bridge, and he was moved so much that we decided to buy food for them. This incident perturbed me and is a major inspiration for the first story under WANT.And yes, the plight of the daily-wage labourers during the novel Coronavirus pandemic also moved me to pen this eBook.
What experience and lessons did you gain out of this project?
It continues to perturb me. The lamp of humanity is dying. It was a refreshing experience. I learnt a lot from it. I believe my vocabulary was enlarged too.
When did the idea of writing and publishing this book strike your mind?
Got the idea of writing during the second phase of the nationwide lockdown. Was too bored to do anything else 🙂 Began writing for 2 hours every day (10 p.m. to 12 p.m.). I wrote on a notebook and transferred the contents to Microsoft Word. I joined Twitter too and gained several followers. I also employed Kindle Create in this project and boom! It was published on Amazon.
Did you face any difficulty finding a publisher (if any)?
No; I self-published. (ebook is available on Amazon)
Support from friends and family (special mentions, if any)
Immensely. In fact, without my parents’ approval and support, the stories would have been consigned to oblivion. My teachers from La Martiniere for Boys( especially English teachers) also assisted me. It would be rather partial if I acknowledged particular individuals.Special mention: Mrs Sudha Singh, who assisted in the promotion, and gave me the idea of publishing an eBook on Kindle.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
Mostly original; However, I might indulge in literary consumerism.
Your favourite book and lesson learnt from it?
Too difficult to pinpoint. Still, I will try.1. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future (By Friedrich Nietzsche) Makes you question conventional morality and foundational principles of philosophy. Teaches me to affirm my existence and indulge in life’s sufferings and pleasures; though in all honesty, I prefer asceticism.2. Mr Oliver’s Diary (By Ruskin Bond)Funny. Relatable. Bond-style. Teaches me to enjoy school life and take pleasure in small things.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
Not currently. Though I must state that Ruskin Bond is my inspiration.
Writing your next book?
Actually, 2. One of them is being currently being published on Wattpad and the second is still being written.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
Gave me exposure and made me learn new tips: setting word counts, for example.
Does your family support your career as a writer?
I am too young; furthermore, I do not wish to write as a career.
Will you share the heart of the storyline in brief?
‘THE DYING LAMP’
This eBook is actually an anthology of short stories with several underlying themes canopied by one. It has 3 sections: WAR, WANT, and ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME OR TO DEATH. The first section follows a reverse chronology, beginning in late 1942 and ending in 1807-1808. It narrates:
A. The plight of a twelve or so years old Jewish boy, who has been separated from his parents in 1938. His mother had been sexually assaulted and his father had been murdered. He escaped a concentration camp and found refuge in a dog whom he called Isaak. Another central character is an old police officer(Eichmann) who has lost both his sons in WWI and is forced to employ himself in the Gestapo. The story describes the whims and fantasies of the child and his desire for freedom.
B. This scene is set in 1948. It describes the mental quandary of a Communist revolutionary who is celebrating his 60th Birthday. Apparently, his birthday coincides with the 30th anniversary of the Romanov Family Massacre, and he reminisces all the events that preceded it, and how he was involved in it. He is ridden with guilt and hallucinates blood at the end, claiming that the revolution was futile. He also negatively comments on the Stalinist regime.
C. This scene is set in England. Marie-Therese is awaiting the arrival of her husband, who is out in the gardens surrounding Holyroodhouse Palace. She comments on the monarchist movement following the French Revolution and recalls all its events: the March on Versailles, Tuileries Palace incarceration, August 9 sabotage and her imprisonment in the Temple. She detests the revolutionaries, calling them monsters and debauched, and longs to meet her parents in heaven. She also comments on the political scenario in France(under Napoleon I), and says that nothing has changed.
WANT describes the plight of A. a toddler who is denied food in several restaurants during Diwali, whereas a dog is fed lavishly everywhere it goes. He sleeps unfed. B. a daily-wage labourer, stuck in Nagpur, finds his son extremely ill and helpless. His wife falls prey to the crumbling roof of his hut. He tries to steal food but the policemen catch him, accusing him of breaking the lockdown. He rushes to his tumble-down hut, finding his wife and son presumably dead. The policemen sigh and leave. Final section harps upon the futility of religious fanaticism.
A wealthy businessman describes how he lost his entire family in a riot and comments on the futility of religious extremism, He eventually concludes that all humans are sinners, doubting the existence of a benevolent Creator. The book ends with Lady Earth going to God and requesting him to kill her, for she believes humans have tortured her and her children(other animals and plants) to extinction. This story is inundated in environmentalism.
Any message for children of your age?
I am a teenager. What do you think defines one? Fantasies, insecurities, complexes, infatuation with the opposite gender, right? Add to that a ravenous desire to be accepted and popular in Social Media. Also, add to that a “cool” attitude and a fascination with politics. And sadly, watching illicit videos too.
To them, I say: Social Media isn’t your identity. Stop appealing to falsities. Stop assuming double faces. Crave for originality.To them, I say: Stop objectifying women, or for that matter, anyone. A human is not an object, you know. There is more to him than just his external beauty.To them, I say: Stop being materialistic. It is all ephemeral. Pointless too.To them, I say: Stop complaining. At least you can afford to complain. Stay content with what you have! Complaining about how slow the WiFi is OR your girlfriend not responding to your outbursts of affection? Halt! Someone is sleeping outdoors without food and water. Think.That sums it up.
What do you feel when you see people getting inspired by your work?
I would feel honoured and satisfied, I suppose!
Well, this was a brief insight of Shashank’s journey towards a larger goal to influence humanity towards betterment. With a keen interest in creating alternate histories and enacting them, reading Wikipedia pages on absolutely anything (from Buddhism to anime), philosophy (having read Nietzsche, Spinoza and Marx), Shashank is a bright teen who has set an example for countless and will surely emerge to be a Wizard of Stories.