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Authors do not come from other planets nor are they special species. They are very much a part of our human race and the very society we live in. Nevertheless, there is a thin line of distinction which separates those who do write – they think different. Authors look towards events, social causes, international issues, justice-injustice and other human concerns with entirely different perspectives. And because authors are creative, they come up with literary pieces written to countersign their thoughts. And knowing such people who can write is always a privilege. And fortunately enough, I have recently come to know another fellow literary personality – Shilpa Raj. Shilpa, among the authors, is different because of her social background and her rise to the pedestal at a young age.
Shilpa was born into a family that faced nothing but poverty and social injustice and didn’t have the means to care for their children, let alone provide a good education. After reaching Shanti Bhavan, a boarding school where she found refuge, her life took a different turn and there she began her education. And since her early academic days, she always aspired to become a journalist as well as an author. To pursue her ambition, she began writing short pieces of fiction as well as non-fiction articles. Eventually, she began writing a memoir when she turned sixteen, and it is the result of 7 years of work that, today, her debut work, The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter, is all set to be launched on 28th of July.
Shilpa’s book will give India an opportunity to honestly consider what we have failed to do for children from poor homes, and what can be done. The social realities which must come out in the public are presented in her debut work. The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter narrates an insider’s story not only of Shilpa’s own life but also gives a metaphorical expression for all those in the society who come from a class deprived of the basic amenities needed for a simple living. Even more, Shilpa has seen for herself incidents of violence, loss of loved ones, fear for her own life, and a sense of deprivation. This is reflected in a single sentence in her book:
“Violence was hardly a stranger in my home.”
The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter is a sensation to come because Shilpa, coming from the class we know as “untouchables” in India, is the first woman to write a memoir at this young age. Most women from her social background don’t even get an opportunity to learn the alphabets! Her work is based on the recollections of her life — from childhood to the present day. Nevertheless, in her memoir, she has wonderfully voiced the concerns of those who need to be heard. She has not only written about herself but for an entire class of people who aspire for redemption in this modern day India. On the one hand, while we are expecting respect for the feat of launching more than a hundred satellites together, we must hang our heads in shame that, in spite of spending billions on education, we cannot provide a basic level of knowledge to the people who come from the lower sections of India’s social hierarchy. In a great measure, her personal account has a universal appeal which will evoke the emotions of readers. Shilpa’s book will prove to be a landmark.
In narrating her story, Shilpa takes the reader to the struggles she faced in adjusting to the two worlds she grew up in – her family that is stuck in ancient traditions, and a modern upbringing that her boarding school offered. Along the way, she experienced social pressures and personal tragedies, including suicide (or possibly murder), of her fourteen-year-old younger sister. Shilpa triumphed over each one of those to advance in her education and write her memoir – an inspiring story of what is possible with determination and opportunity.
Shilpa is only 23 now and she has done a tremendous job with her writing which I am sure will help her accomplish her aspirations. Academically an M.Sc. in Psychology, she takes interest in teaching, counselling children who face trauma, and the arts. I will be writing more about the book which is already receiving favourable responses from readers across the country as well as from abroad; Kirkus Review has spoken in the best terms about the book! And this is, no doubt, a great encouragement for Shilpa Raj who has taken the challenge of writing for a cause.
Readers, get yourself ready for 28th July – the launch of The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter! Give it a read and let yourself know the raw realities which are often kept secret. Best wishes to Shilpa!