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The Inspiring Life History Of Sahitya Akademi Recipient Shyam Besra ‘Jiwirarech’

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Shyam Besra ‘Jiwirarech’ was born on February 12, 1961, at Ramkanali in the Purulia district of West Bengal. He is the son of late Musar Besra and Smt. Yasoda Murmu (Baruni Devi). Sri Besra saw a lot of hardships and sorrow in his early life. He started going to school in his hometown and studied there till Class 3. Due to difference of opinion between his parents, he had to shift to his maternal uncle’s house in Sudiakata village in the Bankura district.

There, Besra’s education took a pause. He passed his days by doing various activities, much of his time being spent with herds or hunting for birds etc. Being a mature kid, he kept looking after the cattle at his maternal aunt’s house in Nagarkudi. With great problems, he passed two to three years there. After that, he went to his younger maternal uncle’s house in Narsinghband, Burnpur.

For two years, he used to aimlessly roam about in the streets of Burnpur and Asansol like a street boy. Sometimes, the condition was so bad that he would wash dishes on the footpath for small roadside hotels. He even sold cucumbers and litchis for his daily wage near the Burnpur bus stand.

Once the misunderstanding between his parents was settled and everything became alright, his whole family returned to Ramkanali. His father was a railway employee and an honest person. One day, after a tussle with the wagon robbers, for the sake of their lives, the family shifted to a far-off small station named Singhpokharia in the Singhbhum district, near Chaibasa. After a few years, Besra’s father got transferred to Sagra, a small station in the Sambalpur district, Odisha. The whole family again shifted there.

Besra’s education once again took a pause. He didn’t bother studying Oriya and would instead busy himself by observing different birds and animals in the nearby forest. He wandered around in the field and passed his time with the village shepherds. His father’s colleagues used to make fun of him, calling him a useless fellow with nothing better to do. To get rid of those words, Besra’s father returned to Tambajor, his native village.

The village lies in Poraiyahat in the Godda district (Santhal Paragana). This way, once again, Besra returned to his studies. With the help of his uncle, Besra took admission in Poraiyahat Middle school, which was 3-4 miles away from his house. Early in the morning, he used to wake up and get himself engaged in different household chores. During the rains, it used to be a havoc. He would cross the river dipped till neck, lifting his books in his hands.

To get relief from the hardship for some days, he used to go to his friend’s house in Tulsitola, which was near the school. After completing his middle school, Jiwirarec went to his elder brother’s house in Religarha colliery in the Hazaribagh district. There, he took admission in Mahatma Gandhi High school, Bhurkunda, which was located across the Damodar River at a distance of seven miles. The school was at a far-off distance, and he used to go to school walking.

Besra maintained a good position in the class, but then it got worse, as his father died when he was in Class 10. It was a devastating moment for him. All teachers from his school gave him the mental support and strength needed to gear up in those hard times. Besra couldn’t understand what to do next. This incident gave a twist to his life. He had to abandon his studies for a while and joined his father’s job in 1980. Besra’s initial posting was in South Eastern Railways at Jharsuguda Station, Orissa.

However, the thirst of education was still there in him. So, with the support of his previous teacher, he gave his matriculation from Zila School Hazaribagh in 1982 by securing second division. He was then promoted to a goods clerk. He was later transferred to Baghmunda Station near Rourkela, but was not satisfied with his post. He changed his post to a ticket collector in 1985 and got transferred to Chankradharpur Station in Singhbhum District.

After a few years, he got married in 1986 and again transferred to Jharsuguda, where he resided with his newly wedded wife. In 1987, he finally returned to Chittaranjan Station, Eastern Railway, which was near his native place. Since 1988, he has been working in the Asansol Division and presently, his designation is that of a CIT (Chief Inspector of Tickets).

Meanwhile, Besra continued his education. In 1987, he successfully passed the Akilmaan (MA in Santali) examination from Santali Sahitya Parishad, Dumka, securing First Class. Simultaneously, he passed the Kahani Kala examination from Kahani Lekhan Mahavidyalaya, Ambala Chawni (Haryana), in 1991.

Besra had a great zeal for higher studies, so he took admission in the Indira Gandhi Open University and successfully completed his BA in Hindi Sahitya in 1998, securing second division. Later on, he also did his Masters in Hindi Literature from the Burdwan University in the year 2002. He also registered himself as a Research scholar for a PhD programme in 2006 from Sido Kanhu University in Dumka on the topic ‘Swantantraottar Santali Katha Sahitya (1950-1975)’.

Currently, he is working on his Phd and waiting for its successful completion. Besra’s works in the form of poetry, stories, essays etc. have been published both in Hindi and Santali in different magazines and newspapers. A literary mindset was aroused in Besra back in his childhood. In middle school in Poraiyahat, a weekly Santali newspaper named ‘Hor Somabad’ used to be published. It was distributed by the postman and Besra was a regular reader of it. The newsletter inspired him to write small poems and articles.

Besra’s writings focus on both rural and urban life. He carries with him the experience of living in both a city and village life. The objective of most of his writings is to eradicate illiteracy, superstitions and consumption of alcohol. He is very much dedicated towards the Santali culture and its rich tradition. In his spare time, he has also been got the opportunity to talk to renowned Santali literates Dr Doman Sahu ‘Sameer’, Sri Gorachand Tudu, Aditya Mitra ‘Santali’, Babu Lal Murmu ’Adivasi’ and Dr Basudeb Besra. These eminent writers served as an inspiration in Besra’s life. They were the people who lit the candle of literature in Besra’s mind and soul.

The first book he published was Dular Kathir (a story collection) in 1991. He published four more books later on: Damin Reyak Judasi Kahani ko (a short story collection) in 2000, Damin Piyo (Dong song collection) in 2003, Damin Kulhi (a short story collection) in 2005 and Marom (a novel) in 2016 . He worked as an editor in the poetry journal called ‘Ebhan Arang’ published from Mihijam for several years. He was an active member of All India Santali Writers Association, Jhargram (WB), for nearly 25 years. He held the post of Vice President for many years in this organisation. He is a lifetime member of Swantantra Lekhak Manch, New Delhi. He has received numerous awards and honours from government as well as non-government organisations. Some notable names among them are:

  • Dr BR Ambedkar fellowship from Dalit Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, in 1992
  • Honour from Bhasha Sangam, Dumka, in 1997
  • ‘Sammanvaye Shree’ Award from Akhil Bharatya Sahitya Sammelan, Bhopal, in 2004.
  • Rashtriya Sikhar Samman in 2014
  • Sahitya Akademi Award in 2018

Besri has a good knowledge in English, Bengali, Ho, Munda and other languages apart from Hindi. He has successfully served five years as a member of the Santali Advisory Board in Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Presently, he resides with his family members at his own residence in Ambagan, Mihijam (Jharkhand).

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