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Shalini Singh: A poetess with canvas

It would be unfair to bracket SHALINI SINGH in one category as she dons several hats with ease. She’s a poet, painter, educationist, lawyer, entrepreneur, musician and a mother. RANA SIDDIQUI ZAMAN brings an unusual slice of life from the world of women achievers

The moment Shalini Singh ushers you to her personal world – her mind space, a mansion house of creativity, do you understand and sort of decode why she is so sensible, sensitive, fragile yet very strong, child-like and yet immensely matured for her age.

At 32, she dons many hats with such ease. She is a poet, painter, educationist, entrepreneur, lawyer, sports and fitness freak, apart from being doting mother of a three-year-old boy, a happy daughter-in-law and wife of a politically-active, entrepreneur husband, Vishal Singh.

Singh’s personality has an interesting mix of “role playing” of several types, at various levels. Hailing from a strict disciplinarian, distinguished family of Uttar Pradesh which rigorously promotes sports and sportspersons, a coy girl of few words at home, who excelled in sports, be admired for debate and conversational skills at school and college was also the first ever female President of the Faculty of Law at Delhi University.

Singh heads a chain of seven educational institutions spread pan India which includes state-of-the-art schools and colleges.  As a director, she overlooks the best schemes benefiting students, new courses, exposures to the outside world in all the realm from arts, science to sports. A fitness freak, Singh has also designed Fitness Box, a state-of-the art gym at Noida. A product of Lady Shriram College, she has been an athlete; her family is known for promoting sports personnel, the Phoghat family of women wrestlers in India owes most of their support to her family. Says Geeta Phoghat, “We just tell them what we need and this Singh family is there to support us like no one does. This has been on since the very beginning.” No wonder, Geeta Phoghat happily extracts time to be a part of Singh’s schools’ annual function as a chief guest to inspire students. With several initiatives to prepare children to be closer to the ground and humane, Singh has launched schemes like Nanhe Kisan in collaboration with Dana Paani and Care Crow. Just recently her educational institutions received the coveted “4th Great Places to Study –Thought Leadership Awards” at UK’s House of Commons.

Deeply inspired by Margret Thatcher and Mahatma Gandhi who rose to work for the nation, Singh says she fails to understand why principles of Mahatma Gandhi of ‘Simple Living and High Thinking’ cannot be applied to our daily lives. Needless to mention, her home is an example of exactly the same thought. Being from a powerful political, business and sports-lover family, her home is an abode of love and respect to the elderly. Her three-year-old son is taught to touch feet of parents’ friends and relatives, one will never be able to make out the difference between children of servants and her own when they play in tandem and eat together. Did anyone say charity begins at home?

Shalini Singh

In conversation with Shalini Singh in the campus of Indirapuram Public School, Ghaziabad | Image: Fotuwalle by DHP Labs

Now, let’s have a peep into her creative world.

Singh is a born poet, a self-taught painter, surprises you with her singling skill and making tunes of her own compositions, and an exceptionally good speaker, her talks are layered with matured meanings and her wit and sense of humour has countless takers.

An avid reader, she wrote her first poem when perhaps just eight. Her poems are simple thoughts with deeper meanings. Just sample this:

Mere jooton ke neeche bhi qadam-tal chalti hai

Ye aandhi hai, iski majal chalti hai

Hukumranon ne bheja tumhe hausla dabaane ko

Tumne hi aandhi ko bawandar bana diya

Ab be-misal chalti hai…

Apt for any age of unruly rulers. Or for a more poignant one, see this…

Massomiyat ki fursat ab kisko hai yahan

Aur zid pe ada hai chand ke aaj koi mujhe mama kahe!

Her paintings are mystical. They could be tribal motifs, geometrical shapes or cosmic mysteries with audacious mix of shades, purple, pinks, greys, blues, reds, oranges and yellows. They flow like a gushing river but stop doing a balancing act. Shalini is a self-taught artist. A fixed period of formal training didn’t suit her temperament.

It’s important to unravel this mystery. Singh is ready for it. “Poetry comes naturally to me while painting is an acquired taste. I come from a strict disciplined family, so I was a person of less words. I wouldn’t know any route from school/college to home and back, with no spoiling amount of pocket money to boast off. I don’t remember when I created my own beautiful world with nature and birds, colours and sunshine as its essential elements. And I don’t remember when and how slightest, unnoticeable thing for other would turn poetry for me.”  To write or paint, she makes a world. “I put on soft music, sufi renditions of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or others, in low volumes, loud is not allowed to intrude my world. I dim the lights. The thoughts get suspended thus, and then I know not, whether my poetry creates a painting or painting leads to poetry.”

Shalini Singh

In conversation with Shalini Singh in the campus of Indirapuram Public School, Ghaziabad | Image: Fotuwalle by DHP Labs

First a poet by heart, Singh entered into the universe of art through a simple incident –  gift of an abstract painting, which, when hung into her room against a dim light, granted her immense pleasure, so much so that it started speaking to her. Emotions started getting attached to it. “I thought, if someone else’s painting could give so much joy, what would my own painting do to me?

“My first journey was not restricted; I tried various textures with different objects, picked up brush to realize its bristles were not meant for me, its butt was.” Few experiments and she felt dejected as they did not deliver the desired results. It left her with a feeling of vengeance. So, she picked her tutors on the Internet – websites, YouTube, special art sites, archives, et al. She dedicated her day and night learning to make and mix textures. With strong aesthetic sense, Singh’s hands slowly made friends with canvas and colours, oils and acrylics.

Amusingly enough, though, be it a cake knife or a pizza cutter, a thread or a bottle’s bottom, a lid or a rope, Singh reveals kitchen has served her purpose more than an art stationary superstore! Now she makes her own brush, with whatever, if you please!

“I love grey colour more. People don’t explore this colour more. It’s like a thought. People go for extremes, they view things as good or bad.  But life is never black and white, it is but grey, with shades of both white and black, So grey fascinates me, I am preparing a painting in which as some 150 shades of grey. I am looking forward to finishing it,” she says.

A die-hard Raza Haider and Gulzar admirer, Singh has mounted several exhibitions in India and has collection abroad, within just few years of painting passionately. Most shows sold off and people looking for something different have her name on their list.

Singh also composes her own poems into euphonic tunes, No wonder, we might soon see a show of hers with her canvases and an album!

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Written by

A journalist for over two decades, she has worked for The Statesman, The Tribune and The Hindu. She is currently on leave with The Hindu to research on two books on Hindi film industry. As a journalist, she has covered CBI, Hawala, DMRC, Delhi police, oils and travel initially, followed by films, art and culture (visual, performing arts, theatre and music reviewer) and human interest stories for 17 years. She also happens to be a film and art critic, art curator and co-author of a book on ‘Muslims in Media’ (1997), which is being taught as text in Heidelberg University, Germany. She is a visiting faculty in media, academic organisations/universities and is also seen on news channels as a panelist.

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