Dr Santosh Singh secured her triple Masters in Sociology, English, and Education from Lucknow University and Agra University, respectively. She holds a doctorate in Sociology from Rajasthan University. She was also awarded post-doctoral fellowship by ICSSR, New Delhi. After a stint of teaching in BDKM Post-Graduate College, Agra, she was assigned a prestigious project- training the future bureaucrats of Namibia, in secretarial work, under the aegis of Internal Security Academy, Mount Abu, Rajasthan. She has been associated with Institute of Social Sciences (ISS) New Delhi since 1996.
Her published works are – ‘Passion for Flames’, ‘Learning Societies – Shifting Patterns’, ‘Combatant Women’, ‘Violence against Rural Women’, ‘Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion in Uttar Pradesh’ in ‘Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance, ‘Women Empowerment and Civil society’ in ‘The Indian Women’s Journey- the last Five Decades.’
She has contributed a number of research papers, articles and stories to national journals, magazines and newspapers. The areas of her primary interests are- water and sanitation, panchayati raj and civil society, women empowerment, conflict and gendered violence and the women, who remained obscured in the history for diverse reasons.
TBE: Tell us something about ‘Zenani Deordhi’ that isn’t in the blurb? What’s the significance of the title?
Dr Santosh Singh: Zenani Deordhi weaves the period when most of the principalities had abandoned the rules, ethics and dharma. Their greed and lust clouded their wisdom that ultimately led to their annihilation. Incidentally, zenana also played a significant role in the downfall. Fateh Kanwar realised very early that every man born in royal family nursed a strong desire for power, whether or not he was first in the line of succession or was capable to shoulder the responsibilities that ensue, and for that end he would go to any extent, no matter how base was his means.
Home is the private space for both men and women but it occupies far more significance in the life of women. The title Zenani Deordhi signifies an exclusive space for royal women, which was also a focal point of activities of royalties. The title generates curiosity as the words Zenani and Deordhi are not the ones which are commonly used. The inquisitiveness ignited by the title is further heightened by the cover page, showing a royal woman in despair.
So far as the lust for power is concerned, it is even worse today and the women folk are faced with a far more daunting task.
TBE: If you don’t mind backtracking a little, what led you to the story of princess Fateh Kanwar? In your opinion, what makes her story relevant for our times?
Dr Santosh Singh: In the medieval India, there was a period when kingdoms were in a state of peril. Reasons were many: constant war, untimely demise of the king, stronghold of incompetent courtiers and social evils, etc. It was during this period the women came at the forefront and took upon themselves the responsibility of regent queens. But generally they were labelled as inefficient rulers Suddenly royal women were picked up from the periphery and placed at the helm of affairs to deal with the gigantic problems of the state.
Fateh kanwar was one such regent queen. Her persona fascinated me a lot. She was pushed into power game but she stuck to her values and integrity in difficult times.
I think not much has changed for the women, particularly the marginalized and weaker sections of the society.
TBE: Is there more pressure when you tell a story about ancient history? How is the research process different?
Dr Santosh Singh: History fascinates me. Women have always been underside of history. And I like to trace their tales and move in the labyrinths of history. I dived with the character in a particular time frame and tried to feel their emotions and struggles. A social scientist has to apply many research methodologies to analyse the data and draw the conclusions whereas the writer of a historical fiction does not do so. The author can at best lay his hands on stray incidents and dates. On the basis of deeper analysis of such incidents, he/she recreates the socio-political system and patterns of behavior of that era and then finalises his plot.
TBE: What comes first? The idea for a story or a historical event that you begin to research? How do you choose your subject matter?
Dr Santosh Singh: There is no fixed pattern. Jagat Singh, as the prominent male character prompted me to explore his character deeper. While I was engaged in finding out more and more about him, and I met Fateh Kanwar, his queen. As I read about her, I was virtually shaken. I wondered how could she maintain sanity and remained committed to her cause in a totally hostile environ? In Zenani Deordhi, it is the characters that inspired me to work on the story. In my forthcoming novel, a historical event prompted me to work on the narrative.
TBE: Historical fiction is a particularly difficult genre to master. The writer cannot let his/her imagination run unchecked, but must adhere to facts. How much creative license do you allow yourself?
Dr Santosh Singh: I agree; a fine balance needs to be maintained. The author cannot take liberty to play with the facts, social customs, cultural practices, the system of governance, hopes and aspirations of the people during that period etc. Based on the available facts, the author digs deep through his insight to understand the finer nuances of a particular incident or behavior. Thus, having created a space for creativity, he/she allows his/her imagination to fly. I generally knit my plots around the facts and maintain their sanctity.
TBE: Which books or authors of historical fiction have inspired you? Have any influenced you as a writer?
Dr Santosh Singh: Acharya Chatursen, K.M.Munshi, Bankim Chandra Chattopadyay, Amitav Ghosh and Nayantara Sahgal left enduring impression on my mind. I grew up reading some of them, during my early age.
TBE: What was one of the most surprising things you learned during creation of your book?
Dr Santosh Singh: All along I had an impression that the life of royal women was all fun. But my perception is totally changed now. The queen, by virtue of her position, becomes an integral part of royal machinery and then begins her journey of turmoil which is far too painful to describe.
TBE: How was your publishing experience with Leadstart?
Dr Santosh Singh: In one word, they are a wonderful team. Very impressive. People at Leadstart publishing are professionally very efficient, committed, warm, friendly and supportive. They sorted out whatever little problems I faced and kept me updated. Their response was always prompt. Their cordial behavior and systematic way of working made me feel like working in my comfort zone.
TBE: Is there anything you are currently working on that may intrigue the interest of your readers?
Dr Santosh Singh: I have recently completed another book titled ‘She- The Forgotten Epoch’ and it is getting published by the Leadstart. Yet another book titled ‘Rajputani’ is scheduled for publication sometime during the current year by Rupa Publications. The manuscript of this book was submitted during second half of 2018 but got stuck up due to Covid-19.