LIFE is an opprtunity, benefit from it. Life is beauty, admire it. Life is a dream, realize it. Life is a challenge, meet it. Life is a duty, complete it. Life is a game, play it. Life is a promise, fulfill it. Life is sorrow, overcome it. Life is a song, sing it. Life is a struggle, accept it. Life is a tragedy, confront it. Life is an adventure, dare it. Life is luck, make it. Life is too precious, do not destroy it. Life is life, fight for it. The following words of Mother Teresa sums up the tempestuous journey of one of India’s brave heart journalist.
Shivnath Jha is a story of artfulness, virtuosity and workmanship in Indian journalism.Very little could we read into hearts and minds of a adolescent newspaper hawker, much less artistry and great skill for creative endeavors. But the boy born in Darbhanga and raised in Spartan streets of Patna defied a series of disadvantages, economic as well as emotional, to emerge with the right stuff. What talent it could take for a news hawker to become byline writer of mainstream national dailies is a stuff of the legend. And, Shivnath is the proud peddler of the roller-coaster ride. He is an iconoclast in many ways. In backwaters of Hindi heartland, there are political stories of ‘rags to regime.’ In the world of news media, this is the story of a boy’s striving through toil and tumult of soiled streets to script a fairy tale story of smacking, star-lit sky-high success.A post-graduate alumnus of Patna University, it was a seven-year-itch for Shivnath between 1968 and 1975 before he could wriggle out of hawking to undertake long-haul reportage for English daily, The Indian Nation. At tender age of 8, Shivnath was condemned to experience economic martyrdom. When he was denied admission to a prestigious school for lack of admission fee, he felt crucified. The tear after tear spurred the boy to lock horns with adversity. He turned rogue in the innocent chamber of his hearts as he stole Rs. 5 from his father’s wallet to buy newspapers and sell them at State Bus terminus near historical Gandhi Maidan in Patna. Four hours of rough-house slugging, he earned Rs. 9.60. The adventure paid off good dividend, earning his admission to T.K.Ghosh Academy, Patna, where studied once upon a time the first President of Independent India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Shivnath’s father, late Gopal Dutta Jha, was a salesman with a publishing house (Novelty & Company, Ashok Raj Path, Patna). Gopalji tormented his body for earning a meagre sum of Rs. 45 per month. While his son Shivnath was a tea and escalator boy with vaulting ambition in his eyes, selling about 280 copies of newspapers – The Indian Nation, Aryavarta, The Searchlight (now The Hindustan Times) and Pradeep (now Dainik Hindustan) each day.
The wheel of fortune turned for the blitzkrieg in 1989. His penchant for socio-political news gathering received a shot in the arm at a time when the politics of north India was in a notable as well as notorious frenzy. One of the most illustrious names of Indian media, M.J.Akbar spotted the special talent for adventure in Shivnath and assigned him stringership of The Telegraph, the daily Akbar launched in Kolkata with much innovation and foresight. Thereafter began the fighting warfare in mainstream media for never-say-die Shivnath. There was no looking back since then. Hopping from one pedestal to the other, he won laurels under such opinion-makers of India – Mr. Vir Sanghvi, Mr.H.K. Dua, Mr. Prabhu Chawla and Mr. Shekhar Gupta, and Late C.R. Irani. In the last few years, Shivnath also chipped in with quantum of sterling experiences for ANI, Dainik Bhaskar and Sahara Time, Aaj Samaj and Tehelka. Currently Shivnath is associated with the Special Broadcasting Service SBS Radio, Sydney, Australia from New Delhi.
In his wrestling with news and views of Indian cultural and political society, his educationist better half and constant companion Neena has been a gargantuan influence. She stood by him like a moonlight shadow through vagaries of triumph and tragedy. It was Neena who encouraged Shivnath to rescue Bharat Ratna and Shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan from financial disaster in the twilight of legend’s life.
It was 2002. Shivnath and Neena decided to take the plunge. They set out sailing in the waters of the Ganges on the banks of Benares. In search of salvation and in quest of valour and pride, the couple launched a national movement, ‘Andolan Ek Pustak Se’ with active association and consent of Bismillah Khan. Bismillah: The Beginning Foundation was born, which published a popular monograph on the life and times of Ustad Bismillah.
The Foundation moved further ahead with absolute resolve to bring financial benefits towards steady rehabilitation of a good number of descendants of India’s forgotten heroes of Independence. Ustad Bismillah Khan released the monograph on his 91st birthday, i.e. on March 21, 2006. The Ustad celebrated the momentous occasion by cutting a 91 kg cake. The founder of Sulabh sanitation Movement Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak, Shivnath and Neena brought tears to the bleary-eyes of the maestro by presenting a three-kilogram silver shehnai and Rs 1.5 lakh.
The movement launched by Shivnath and Neena gained a victory of sorts after the Government of India, the Ministry of Home Affairs, allowed them to invite the Ustad to play shehnai at the India Gate in New Delhi. But fate had willed otherwise. He could not live to perform this historic feat and died at Heritage Hospital in Varanasi on August 21, 2006. They decided to publish one book every year to promote Bismillah’s secular philosophy in addition to patronize art and artists and rehabilitate one family of the descendants of forgotten heroes through the proceeds of the book sold.
In 2007, they identified and rescued Sri. Vinayak Rao Tope, 54, the third generation descendants of Tatya Tope, the brave heart martyr of 1857 Mutiny. Sri Vinayak Rao Tope along with his wife Smt. Saraswati Devi and three children – Pragati, Tripti and Ashutosh – were living in penury and obscurity in Bithooor He was running a small grocery shop in order to make both ends meet along with conducting religious ceremony for the ‘jajmans’.
Shivnath moved ahead in January 2009 with steely determination to discover the sorry plight of Sultana Begum, the great grand daughter-in-law of India’s last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. Sultana is living in a slum of Howrah (West Bengal) and runs a tea-stall to earn a living. Yet, she was not just another person. Sultana Begum’s 8ft X 8ft dwelling in the slums shockingly belied the fact that her family once ruled Indian sub-continent for over three centuries from the rampart of the Red Fort, and that Taj Mahal was erected as a mausoleum for one of her great great aunts, the bewitching beauty, Mumtaz Mahal. The couple conceived the valiant mission to compile and edit a pictorial coffee-table book in the honour of India’s post-Independent rulers, Prime Ministers – Prime Ministers of India: Bharat Bhaagya Vidhaata-1947-2009.
It was 13 April 2011 Shivnath and Neena got another providential chance to provide a new lease of life to Jeet Singh, grandson of Shaheed-e-Azam Udham Singh. Udham Singh might have borne the burden of avenging one of the most gruesome colonial acts in Indian history – the infamous Jalianwala Bagh massacre, but his descendants were condemned to carry the burden of hardships. Isn’t it pitiable when Shivnath discovered Jeet Singh, he was working as a labourer at a construction site in Punjab? Jeet Singh is no ordinary Indian but a grandson of India’s freedom struggle martyr Udham Singh who shot and killed Michael O’ Dwyer, the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab in British Raj, reviled for the Baisakhi day massacre in 1919.
Rajya Sabha MP and founder of the Lokmat media group Vijay Darda stepped forward to honour Udham Singh on the occasion of Baisakhi by handing over to Jeet Singh a cheque of Rs 11.5 lakh, collected through contributions by his media group and from some individual philanthropists, besides Rs 100,000 by Prof Ram Prakash, a member of Rajya Sabha. The book, Forgotten Indian Heroes and Martyrs: Their Neglected Descendants was also launched.
In 2013, the duo again published a book Forgotten Heroes and MARTYRS of India’s Freedom Movement and did their best in making infusion in the life of Bijendrs Singh, the third generation bloodline of Martyr Ram Prasad Bismil. Here again, the founder of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation Dr Bindeshwar Pathak handed over a cheque worth Rs 200,000 for performance of marriage of his Singh’s daughter – Priyanka. This book was the fifth in the series of Aandolan Ek Pustak Se.
Albert Camus, the legendary French author rightly said, “Martyrs, my friend, have to choose between being forgotten, mocked or used. As for being understood-never.”Like Amos Bronson Alcott said, success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats, Shivnath, Neena and aspiring son Aakash epitomize the belief that struggles develop your strengths. Indeed, the crusading family is a believer in the words of famous Hollywood action hero and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who says that when you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is the real strength. Whatever the struggle, continue the climb. It may be only one step to the summit. I am wishing very good tidings to Shivnath, Neena and Aakash with these words of Diane Westlake.