Arjun Singh is the author of Desert Teacher, which describes his life and his experiences working as a teacher in rural India.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book about your experiences, and how did you choose the topics you wrote about?
A: There are three basic reasons. First, in 2009 I got the opportunity to visit New York. I stayed there for three weeks. It was a turning point in my life. I experienced that life was so different there. It was a different planet for me with so many differences in every aspect of life, like living style, food, civic sense etc.
During my stay in the U.S.A., whenever I was at an airport, a railway station or a restaurant, I found most people reading books. At that time I thought that books are the best medium to reach people, and if my book is published on an international stage, then I would be able to share my experiences with people abroad. But at the time I had no idea how challenging book promotion is.
Since my school days, I was against dogmatic beliefs and rude traditions like child marriages, the widow system, the death feast, the untouchables, etc. But it was tough to break opinions that had been held for generations.
During my college days I supported my widowed aunt to find a job, and later when I wrote the story "My Widowed Aunt," based on life of my aunt, that got published in a magazine in Hong Kong.
I was very confident that people would definitely read my stories and readers’ comments would be a moral support for me to fight against the rude system in society.
Most of the stories in my book are related to traditions, and in almost every story it is described how a perfect balance can be made between traditions and modernization. In my opinion, an educated person can do this, and life is more comfortable and happier.
Second, Jaisalmer, my town, is popular among tourists all over the world. Nicknamed “Golden City,” it is famous for its prestigious history and unique beauty.
Thousands of tourists come to Jaisalmer every year and they are amused to see the architecture of historical monuments like forts, palaces, temples, havelis, etc., but at the same time they are more interested in culture and life.
But there is no written information available. To respond to their curiosity, I thought that my book would be a good medium to answer some questions related to the life of my town.
Third, one who dares to teach must never cease to learn….so as a teacher I learn everyday and want my students to know that education opens windows to the world. To set an example among my students, I decided to publish my stories on an international stage. I wanted to prove to my students that education matters and my book is the best result of it.
I chose "Desert Teacher"as the title of the book because it’s a collection of stories about life in the Thar Desert of Western India by a teacher.
Q: As you’ve explained, you’re a teacher, and some of the chapters deal with your experiences in the classroom. What do you see as your role in the community?
A: The role of a teacher in the community is most important. I have been teaching in a rural area for 18 years and I personally feel that a teacher plays a prominent role in a community where literacy rate is very low.
In the present, everyone fights for rights and very few fulfill their duties. So as a teacher my job is to educate kids so they could understand their duties for their community and country. Although I got chances to be posted in the city, I think my duty is to promote education in a rural area and it is much needed.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I want my readers to know that my stories clarify that India is evolving, especially rural India. There is a lovely thread of opening to new ideas, generations by generations, that my family represents in my stories. I hope my readers will enjoy these short stories, written in simple English, about every aspect of life in the desert.
Most of the characters are from my family and even they have no idea that what they think is very normal in their life can be so unusual and interesting for many people.
Readers will not only come to know about the struggles of life in the desert but also understand how the people of the most typical and dry area deal with and intelligently solve their problems. It’s a journey from darkness to light.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb