Siddharth Sehgal, an Engineer by profession and a writer by passion has significantly contributed to the literary field. The techie is an alumnus of the University of Alabama, a columnist for The Times of India, and the founder of the Indian Periodical who has aptly used his creative powers to enchant the readers.
After returning to his home country in 2017, Siddharth devoted his time to volunteering for the Ram Krishna Mission Ashram wherein he used his international expertise to teach underprivileged children in a nifty way that paved for more skillful and practical knowledge. To bring out his creative and social work to the light, we are happy to share excerpts from an extremely intriguing conversation:
1. What made you inclined towards writing and when did you commence it?
I was studying at UAB in Birmingham, Alabama, it was the summer of 2010 when I came across my University’s newspaper The Kaleidoscope. It was run by students, and this was really interesting to me because we in India have a very different understanding of a newspaper.
Initially, I had many rejections but I kept trying, writing, bringing clarity and structure to my arguments, and when my first article was published, it was as if the happiest day of my life, I didn’t get paid nor did anybody take notice but the idea of getting published, expressing my views to an audience was a huge motivation for me.
I continued sending articles to the Kaleidoscope and eventually, I was hired by the newspaper as a columnist. This journalistic experience during my student days was the start and I haven’t looked back ever since.
2. Which has been your phenomenal work as of now? Is there any genre you wish to explore?
I’d say rather than a particular work, I see my overall writing journey as an achievement itself in a personal sense. I have been religiously publishing Indian Periodical for almost eight years now, every weekend, I never made any money out of it but it gave me an opportunity to not only continue my passion for writing but also interact with other kindred writers, poets, and artists, it is an immensely satisfying feeling.
But, I do wish to publish my memoirs someday and maybe become a full-time writer or columnist.
3. Writing requires some solitary time – how do you crack out the persisting distractions?
You are right, writers, poets, and artists are solitary souls. I often go for long walks, whenever I can. If I can’t go outside, I’d start strolling in my living room during the early hours of the day or at night when other family members are fast asleep. It helps me in thinking, a walking meditation of sorts but it helps me to process the ideas and get clarity. Even during my day job, I take breaks to go for a short walk; it’s like a mental pause that resets everything.
Books are physical manifestations of ideas and experiences, that is why they will always have that special connection with the readers.– Siddharth Sehgal
4. How do the writing ideas come to you – do they pop up unannounced or it’s more of a conscious method you follow up?
It’s more of an unannounced pop-up that comes to mind, though it happens more often when I am either walking, writing, sitting idle, or sometimes even sleeping. Especially, when I am relaxing or resting.
I think everyone has their own resonant frequency where they are more open to channelize that creative stream under certain conditions. That is why it’s necessary to have that hobby or interest that one can pursue to psychologically recharge themselves. It can be through meditation, walking, writing, painting, or any other activity.
5. Do you think that digital books have an upper hand over physical books? Does e-learning suffice over traditional learning methods?
Books are physical manifestations of ideas and experiences, that is why they will always have that special connection with the readers. I am not saying that digital books are not useful but people can have distractions such as an email or a WhatsApp notification in between while reading something online.
Reading physical hardcover, paperback books is a more attention driven focused activity, that is why physical books are far superior to their digital counterparts. In fact, it is unfortunate that libraries have virtually disappeared from our urban landscape, neither people nor politicians feel the need to have libraries in their neighborhoods or constituencies.
A well-read citizenry will be more conscious of our country’s and society’s development. We should make some space in our homes for books if we can.
As far as freedom of speech is concerned, there is a genuine concern about censorship.– Siddharth Sehgal
6. What is your say on the Indian publishing industry? Do you think that addressing the real concerns or coming up with debatable topics is curtailed and does that limitation to freedom of speech and expression justified?
The Indian publishing industry is at a critical juncture where it’s trying to find new ways to sustain itself but basically, it all boils down to whether it can re-generate interest in reading. People spend more time on Whatsapp and Social Media rather than reading newspapers or books and that tells a lot about our publishing industry. It also has to do with an inclination toward English literature which even though enjoys a good readership the majority of speakers in India speak local languages.
If we can find ways to re-ignite interest in the literature available in Hindi and regional languages, I think that will generate new sustainable demand and will act as a booster for our publishing industry. In fact, I will be more than interested in publishing my memoirs in Hindi if I am able to find an interested publisher because I think I can tell a story more effectively in my mother tongue and I think that goes with all of us.
In Indian Periodical, I especially urge poets to share poems in Indian Languages be it Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam along with a basic English translation because our languages contain our collective memory, history, and experiences and I believe that defines who we are as Indians.
As far as freedom of speech is concerned, there is a genuine concern about censorship. Many times, we hear about comedians or journalists facing jail time for overexpressing unpopular opinions, tweets, or articles. We should always have room for disagreement if we don’t want to become like our eastern or western neighbors.
7. What are your recommendations for revamping India in terms of education?
We have a rote learning-based system where marks and percentages are everything, only good academic performance is considered criteria to evaluate a student which is a deeply flawed paradigm. A person’s marks in 10th, 12th or Bachelors should not close opportunities for him or her in future.
We also have a problem of education inequality where a student from an underprivileged background may not be able to compete with a student from a well-off background in exams like IIT, NEET, or CAT.
Just because a student can’t speak English well or he can’t afford to coach, he should not lose a chance to graduate from premier institutions. Yes, merit is important but it doesn’t mean anything if there is no level playing field.
I have a dream of setting up institutions where quality, practical education can be provided specifically to students from underprivileged backgrounds.– Siddharth Sehgal
8. The one thing you would change about India? What milestone have you set up for yourself for bringing that change to the nation?
Education, plain and simple. You build a country and its citizens by education. Quality education that is centered on building an aware, conscious, dutiful and compassionate citizenry is the way to change a country’s destiny.
I have a dream of setting up institutions where quality, practical education can be provided specifically to students from underprivileged backgrounds. Though to be honest it’s just a dream, besides mentoring kids at Sharda Balgram orphanage at Ram Krishna Mission Ashram in Gwalior, I did not have much progress in this direction but I hope someday it will come to fruition.
9. What advice would you like to impart to budding writers?
A writer should write for the love of writing, doesn’t matter if his work is read by ten or ten million. There are lots of rejections in this domain and a writer should not get disheartened by rejection letters. No one becomes a successful writer overnight. It takes a lot of work and patience. Do not get discouraged, keep writing.
10. What message you would like to share for our readers’ club?
We should all strive to make this world a better place by whatever big or small means we can. Important thing is to walk the path, reaching the destination is secondary.