THE SCRIPT OF A FULFILLING JOURNEY
Seldom before has any newspaper vendor got the privilege of working and writing for mainstream national dailies until Shivnath Jha surprised everybody and his stories were front-paged by national dailies.
A spirited drive and unwavering determination saw him through this unbelievable course. To most others it may look like a scratch-to-sky scrapper story. Yet he himself prefers to confine himself to work at hand, leaving the rest to God and destiny.
As a post-graduate of the famed Patna University in Bihar, he paddled through Patna’s streets for over seven years, beginning 1968, to deliver newspapers from house to house right from the daybreak before he joined as copy-holder at a Patna-based newspaper The Indian Nation in 1975 just after the emergency era.
Born in a Maithil Brahmin family in Darbhanga district of Bihar, he shed all pretensions and set out on to the path of knowledge and modern learning. Once he tasted journalism in Bihar, it did not take long to turn out to be an addiction.
Shivnath learnt the basic of his life as a newspaper hawker. At eight, life seemed a task in itself. He was refused admission to a prestigious school (Ram Mohan Roy Seminary) in Patna because he could not pay its fees. Shivnath stole Rs. 5 from his father's currency box and brought newspapers from them at State Bus terminus near Gandhi Maidan in Patna. After four hours he had earned Rs. 9.60. He got admitted in another school - T.K.Ghosh Academy - in Patna from where Dr. Rajendra Prasad, independent India’s first President, did his early schooling.
Shivnath’s father, late Gopal Dutta Jha, was a salesman with a publishing house (Novelty & Company, Ashok Raj Path, Patna), earning Rs. 45 per month. Shivnath was a tea and escalator boy who sold 280 copies of newspapers - The Indian Nation, Aryavarta, The Searchlight (now The Hindustan Times) and Pradeep (now Dainik Hindustan) each day. Shivnath has not forgotten his days of struggle.
In 1989, he was spotted and marked by eminent journalist Mr. M.J. Akbar who took Shivnath through the mainstream journalism by putting him as a stringer of The Telegraph, the newspaper, Akbar had launched as an editor. Thereafter, he has gone on to work under the finest editors India has known like Mr. Vir Sanghvi (SUNDAY), Mr. H.K. Dua, Mr. Prabhu Chawla and Mr. Shekhar Gupta (The Indian Express), Late C.R. Irani (The Statesman), and Mr. Akbar (The Asian Age). Besides such privileges, Shivnath has the honour of working for ANI, Dainik Bhaskar and Sahara Time, Aaj Samaj and Tehelka as well.
Any reference to Shivnath shall remain far from being complete in case his educationist wife Mrs. Neena Jha’s association with the late Ustad Bismillah Khan is missed. The couple had done in the wake of public appeal for assistance made by such a legend of Indian classical music amid his declining health and reducing circumstances. In the noble endeavor that was greatly appreciated by the late Ustadji. Neena, a teacher in St. Thomas School, Indirapuram, Ghaziabad, by profession; keeps alive his passion to work for the under privileged.
Six years ago, when Ustad Bismillah Khan did not have money and resources to meet the cost of his needs, the then Government arranged for his performance at Parliament Annexe, where Khan had to virtually give a charity show for his own benefit. It was then Shivnath and Neena, who had launched a nationwide movement “Andolan Ek Pustak Se” under the aegis of Bismillah:The Beginning Foundation to protect musicians, academicians, artists and policemen who brought pride and laurels to the nation, thought of bringing out a monograph on the life and art of the Ustad to extend financial support to him and others in need.
The duo’s Monograph on Ustad Bismillah Khan was forwarded to the then President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam to pay tribute to the (then) living Shehnai maestro on his 90th birthday on March 21, 2005. The book was dedicated to the newspaper hawkers and three of their journalist friends – Sanjeev Sinha (The Indian Express), Ranjan Jha (Aajtak) and Anju Sharma (The Hindustan Times) who died in a plane crash with senior Congress leader Madhavrao Scindia.
The maestro released the monograph on his 91st birthday, i.e. on March 25, 2006. The Ustad cut a 91 kg cake. The founder of Sulabh sanitation Movement Dr. Bindeshwar Pathak and the couple presented the Ustad a three-kilogram silver shehnai and Rs 1.5 lakh to take care in the winter of his life.
Hailing their efforts, the Union Minister of Science and Technology, Mr. Kapil Sibal sanctioned Rs. 10,000 per month from his personal account to the maestro till the Ustad alive.
Shivnath and Neena’s movement 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 to pay tribute to the ‘unsung heroes of World War-I, for the global peace, communal harmony and fulfill his lifetime desire. But fate did not allow the Ustad. He died on August 21, 2006.
To promote the Ustad’s secular philosophy, Neena and Shivnath decided to continue their movement “Andolan Ek Pustak Se” by publishing books – Monograph on Ustad Bismillah Khan, India Calling (In commemoration of India entering 60 year of Independence) and Lalu Prasad:India’s Miracle - one after another for the noble cause.
In June 2007, the couple identified and rescued Mr. Vinayak Rao Tope, the third generation descendants of Tantya Tope, a frontline leader and martyrs of the 1857 Uprising. Mr. Tope along with his wife Saraswati Devi and three children – Pragati, Tripri and Ashutosh – were living in anonymity in Bithoor village, about 20 kms from India’s industrial city Kanpur. He was running a small grocery shop in Bithoor and was maintaining his family from his 'jajmans' (masters) by conducting religious ceremonies for them.
Moved by the plight Mr. Lalu Prasad offered jobs to Pragati and Tripti in the Container Corporation of India under Indian Railways. Mr. Vijay Darda, a Rajya Sabha member from Maharastra and owner of Lokmat Group of Newspapers has provided financial assistance of Rs. Five lakh to Mr. Tope. Company Affairs Minister Mr. Prem Chand Gupta has ensured that the house of Tantya Tope at Bithur would be turned into a memorial and a life-size statue of the martyr would also be installed there.
Yet, in the midst of pompous celebrations over the 150th year of India’s first war of independence, a fact that rankles is that the heirs of the Mughal’s last emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, Sultana Begum, continue to languish in squalour and anonymity in a 8′x8′ room at Cowies Ghat’s slum located near Foreshao Road in Howrah district of West Bengal. She runs a tea-stall to earn a living for her family.
From Howrah line, Sultana Begum is wife of late Muhammad Bedar Bakht, son of Jamshid Bakht and grandson of Jawan Bakht. Bedar Bakht died in 1980. After his death West Bengal government provided her an accommodation at Trolly Gunj area but due to harassment by some local criminals, she was forced to vacate the flat.
Now, Andolan Ek Pustak Se has decided to rehabilitate Sultana Begum from the sale proceeds of the book - Lalu Prasad:India’s Miracle. Two Central ministers have also hailed the efforts of Neena and Shivnath and ensured all possible support to the Mughal’s descendant. Her rehabilitation is on card.
When life was a struggle our efforts paid, so there is no place of thorns in life.