Swadesh Deepak (born 1943) is an Indian playwright, novelist and short-story writer. Deepak has been active on the Hindi literary scene since the mid-1960s and is best known for Court Martial, a pathbreaking play that he published in 1991. Deepak's most recent book is Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha, a volume of memoirs. Deepak's work has appeared in all major literary periodicals of India, and he has more than 15 published titles to his credit. Several of his works have been staged and made into television programmes.
Swadesh Deepak found his literary expression first as a short story writer and then as a novelist and playwright. He has experimented with many forms of prose, and is well known for his unique style.
Swadesh Deepak started his journey in the literary world, when he was about 14 years (factually born in 1939). After partition of India in 1947, the family settled in Rajpura Town, where Swadesh Deepak completed his matriculation and would travel by train to Ambala City and Cantt for his graduation and Post Graduation studies (in English and Hindi). The seeds of his grim, dark story telling and the characters always carrying a loaded Gun, were sown during the partition of India, in blood bath, when he watched his father, a teacher of Urdu and Persian, taking to gun to save his village from the onslaught of marauding crowds of looters; along with few friends of his, who also owned guns; thus kept the hordes of looters at bay from their roof tops, for about 7 days and nights. Swadesh and his elder sister watched many people falling dead or being maimed. It was the Gurkhas regiment from the Indian Army which saved all the Hindu families of the village and brought them to India; in a Refugee Camp of Tents in the city of Kurukshetra. After reaching India, his father suffered from tuberculosis due to the smoke of gunpowder and dust which had affected his lungs. Father was in a Sanatorium for about 5 years, where one of his lung was removed. The family was taken care of by the maternal grandfather, and brought to Ambala City (Baldev Nagar Camp, built by the displaced populace). When his father joined back, the family shifted permanently to Rajpura Town, which was constructed by the refugees from Bahawalpur, Rawalpindi, Balochistan and Multan, with the help of Indian Govt.
Initially his short stories were published in the Hindi newspapers from Jalandhar. His first story in an Indian magazine, Manohar Kahaniyan, titled "Lal Pheete Ka Tukda" was published in April 1957, He was writing as "Swadesh Bhardwaj". After this story, he replaced Bhardwaj with Deepak. His first break in the Indian Hindi fiction came through a renowned literary Hindi magazine "Gyanodaya" in 1960 or 1961, with the story "Santa Singh Ka Beta Banta Singh". The story with trace of violence and rage, where Banta Singh hits his father's truck (both are drivers) and Santa Singh dies, on a narrow bridge, to make sure that he (Son) reaches the nearest market First, to offload his products and get good value. Those were the years when Nirmal Verma, Rajendra Yadav, Mannu Bhandari, Prabhakar Machve, Agyeya, Dr Dharamvir Bharati and few more top notch authors of Hindi Literature used to be published in this Magazine. He became quite popular by his number of stories in the upcoming popular magazine "Sarika" (edited by Kamaleshwar). His story "Ashwarohi" was well received by the readers, and many more were to follow. After this, his stories were also published in "Dharamyug", a very popular and prominent weekly magazine, edited by late Dr Dharamveer Bharti. Deepak's first story in this magazine was "Aheri". Then on his stories appeared in "Saptahik Hindustan, "Nai Kahanian", "Hans", "Kathadesh" etc. and all his stories have been included in different collections of his short stories, except for his initial stories namely, Lal Pheete Ka Tukda, Santa Singh Ka Beta Banta Singh, "Ek Muthee Chaval", Badaltee Rahen, to name a few.
The first collection of stories that Deepak published in the 1973 was Ashwarohi (The Rider), which is the landmark of his grim, dark story telling style on the literary scene. Over the next few years, Deepak wrote some of his most popular stories: Aheri, Jangal, Mara Hua Pakshi, Maatam, Jaihind, Kyunki Main Use Jaanta Nahin, Kisi Ek Ped Ka Naam Lo, Kyunki Hawa Padh Nahin Sakti, Tamaasha and Paapi Pet, Kya Koi Yahan Hai ? The story "Kya Koi Yahan Hai" was published in Dharamyug, in 1976, during the Internal Emergency in India, when all newspapers, magazines in every Indian Languages were under draconian "censorship", where any news, article, poems, stories received by the newspapers and magazines, were "studied" by the Govt. agencies. When this particular story was received in Dharamyug, the censoring authority treated it as trash and not worth censoring, and cleared it. Dr Dharam Veer Bharati knew that it would happen this way. The readers and intellectuals loved it, as during that dark period, readers were deprived of stabbing editorials, opinions, views in any form which gave any hint about the situation in India.
Deepak also published two novels in Hindi, Number 57 Squadron and Mayapot (The Phantom Ship). The latter evoked mixed response from readers and critics. A collection of the finest stories of Swadesh Deepak, titled Pratinidhi Kahaniyan (Representative Stories) was published in the mid-1980s.
Swadesh Deepak was widely recogenised as one of the finest contemporary playwrights in the country after the publication of Court Martial. The play hits very hard at the roots of casteism in the prevailing society of the Indian Army. Court Martial has been staged close to 4000 times in India (till 2014), by well-known Indian theatere directors Ranjeet Kapoor, Arvind Gaur, Usha Ganguly, Abhijeet Choudhary,Shilpi Marwaha . It has been translated into many regional Languages of India.
Deepak regards Court Martial as his best-known work, but not the best. His other prominent plays include Sabse Udaas Kavita, Jalta Hua Rath (The Chariot in Flames), and Kal Kothari (The Dark Cellar). Deepak's first play, Natak Bal Bhagwan, dates back to 1988.
In the early 1990s, Deepak showed severe symptoms of bipolar disorder, a condition that was diagnosed only a couple of suicide attempts and many frightful months later. He was under medication for a long time, and took many years to recover. Around 2001, he began documenting those fateful years spent "in the darkroom of his soul and mind". These memoirs were first serialised in Kathadesh, a leading Hindi monthly, and later published as a book, Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha (Rajkamal Prakashan). Deepak's memoirs triggered widespread debate, both for their innovative form, and their depiction of the way in which mental illness is perceived in India. The book won Deepak as many admirers as foes, with many putting even the suffering behind the book under the scanner.
Despite the volley of sharp-edged comments that it ensued, Maine Maandu Nahin Dekha is a work unlike any other published in recent times. It is special because it is a grotesque first-hand account of how this disorder destroys logic in a systematic fashion. And it is Deepak's precise, bare-bones language—almost poetical in most portions—that lends authenticity to the text.
" The wide spread volley of sharp-edged comments in the Hindi Literary field of India, has become a forgotten chapter, after Swadesh Deepak has been missing since 02 June,2006, when he left his house for early morning walk.However, it is worth to share the following news about "Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha", published in news papers on 24 September 2013. I being his younger brother, would like to place it on record in "Wikipedia"!
The Tribune Online Edition of 24 September 2013
Chandigarh, 23 September, The Department of Psychiatry, PGIMER, Chandigarh, continued its celebration of the golden jubilee of the Department with the Silver Jubilee of the Drug De-addiction and Treatment Centre (DDTC) on the second day on Monday. An International CME on "The Journey from Madness to Mental Health: The Next Fifty Years of Psychiatry" was held in the Lecture Theatre-I of the PGIMER. It was a proud moment for everyone present who was a part to the Department in its journey of 50 glorious years. Esteemed psychiatrist and former head of the department, Prof VK Varma delivered a riveting lecture on remodelling postgraduate psychiatric training in India for the future.
The Manoved Digest, the first and only Hindi quarterly dedicated to the issues of mental health also gave away its annual awards for the contributions in mental health. Swadesh Deepak, the renowned writer was given the 'Manoved Prerna Samman' for his courage to share his sufferings in his book "Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha". Professors NN Wig and VK Varma were honoured with the "Manoved Samarpan Samman" for their dedicated service and leadership in the field of psychiatry. The Department of Psychiatry, PGIMER was awarded the "Manoved Seva samman".
The Loaded Gun
Deepak's works are characterised by their tragic, dark endings. His characters find death as a constant companion, and often succumb to it. Often, critics have suggested that Deepak walks alongside his characters with a loaded gun—recoiled and ready to fire. Maybe, one can trace the beginnings of Deepak's present mental ordeal to the dark stories that he was writing even in the early 1970s. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that Deepak's favourite authors are Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf, who succumbed to mental agony themselves.
The Return of the Storyteller
After a self-proclaimed abstinence from writing short stories lasting many years, Deepak returned to the form in the early 2000s. Some of his stories written during the period carry the echo of Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha. Bagugoshe was a fine story that he published a few years back.
Awards and honours
Swadesh Deepak has won many awards for his powerful writings. Recently, he won the Sur Puraskar, the highest literary award conferred by the Government of Haryana, the state of his residence. He participated in the World Hindi Conference organised in Suriname.
Personal life and disappearance
In early 1996, Deepak showed symptoms of acute depression related to Bipolar disorder. He had suffered a cardiac attack in 2004, but had shown considerable improvement, after undergoing surgery. On 7 June 2006, Deepak left home for his routine morning walk, and went missing. All attempts to trace him by his friends and family have failed. He was supported by his wife, son and daughter at the time of disappearing. It seems that due to the illness, he was going through sour relations with his family. Later in a 2016 published book, The Book of Light, his son Sukant Deepak wrote an essay about him.
Deepak's wife, Geeta, died on 18 October 2009 at PGI, Chandigarh.
Books by Swadesh Deepak
These titles are arranged in chronological order.
Collections of short stories
- Ashwarohi / अश्वारोही (1973)
- Maatam / मातम (1978)
- Tamaasha / तमाशा (1979)
- Pratinidhi Kahaniyan / प्रतिनिधि कहानियां (1985)
- Bal Bhagwaan / बाल भगवान (1986)
- Kisi Apriya Ghatna Ka Samachar Nahin / किसी अप्रिय घटना का समाचार नहीं (1990)
- Maskhare Kabhi Nahin Rote / मसखरे कभी नहीं रोते (1997)
- Nirvachit Kahaniyan / निर्वाचित कहानियां (2003)
- Bagugoshe / बगूगोशे (2017)
- Number 57 Squadron / नंबर ५७ स्क्वाड्रन (1973)
- Mayapot / मायापोत (1985)'
- Natak Bal Bhagwan / नाटक बाल भगवान (1989)
- Court Martial / कोर्ट मार्शल (1991)
- Jalta Hua Rath / जलता हुआ रथ (1998)
- Sabse Udaas Kavita / सबसे उदास कविता (1998)
- Kaal Kothari / काल कोठरी (1999)
- Maine Mandu Nahin Dekha / मैंने मांडू नहीं देखा (2003)
Play performances and their reviews
Asmita Theatre's Arvind Gaur has performed 700 shows of Court Martial in all over India with well-known cinema actors, such as Deepak Dobriyal, Piyush Mishra, Manu Rishi, Shakti Anand, and Shilpa Shukla. Many of Deepak's plays, including Jalta Hua Rath and Kal Kothari were first directed by Arvind Gaur.
- "Tight pace of Swadesh Deepak's Court Martial... not to be missed." – Kavita Nagpal, Hindustan Times
- "Arvind Gaur's hard hitting realism... his intelligent approach... strong play by Swadesh Deepak." – Aruna Ahluwalia (E. News)
- "Kudos to Court Martial... a drama that goes beyond the limits of drama." – The Indian Express
- "The Asmita team has created a marvelous piece of theatre out of a wonderful script... don't miss it. The time spent watching the play is well worth it." – Smita Nirula, The Pioneer
- "Stealing the scene with revolt as the theme... Court Martial is an engrossing display of theatre for social awareness." – Sushama Chadha (The Times of India)
- "Excellent Performance by Deepak Dobriyal as Captain Vikash Roy... Swadesh Deepak's brilliant script... memorable production by the Asmita team and Arvind Gaur." – Romesh Chandra The Hindu
- "Impressive Presentation: The much-talked about play Court-Martial, directed by the eminent young theatre director Arvind Gaur, was successfully staged here at Gandhi Bhawan Auditorium, on the first day of Shahjehanpur Theatre Festival. Court Martial is probably the first Indian play, wherein an effort to expose the rot rampant in the Indian army has been made." -Amar Ujala
- "Mirror of the Society: Court Martial is not just a play, but more aptly the real picture of the Indian society that brings us face to face with the caste-based feudalism, despite the constitutional & legal objections of the democratic procedures. The Indian Army is a government institution that does not permit caste-based reservations. The play presents the truth very much prevalent in the Indian society. That, a person with merit is traumatized just because of his low-caste origins. Can we march into the 21st century with such a narrow mindset? This is an important question that seeks an answer of us. Can we answer this question in this 50th year of our independence? Perhaps not!" – Amit Kumar, Rastriya Sahara
- "Court Martial, scripted by Swadesh Deepak and directed by Arvind Gaur was staged at the Shri Ram Centre, on the first day of the 'Asmita Theatre Festival' organized by Asmita Production. The play is based on the caste-based discrimination rampant in the Indian Army. The strength of the play lies in its powerful dialogues that take it forward." -Alok Nandan
- "Not Just a Play: ‘Court Martial’ is not just a play written by Swadesh Deepak, directed by Arvind Gaur & enacted by Asmita-artistes. It is a burning truth of the Indian Society. Sensing that Indian Army is the only government institution, which does not permit caste-based reservations, 'Court Martial' presents a mixture of natural and legal justice, which is not only the truth of the Indian Army, but that of the whole Indian Society. That, despite all his qualifications, an individual is traumatised because of his low-caste origins is not merely social violence, but a crime against humanity. The monotony of the long court-trial was pre-empted by the seasoned performance of the Asmita artistes. This Asmita-presentation has proved to be a soothing experience, after many years, for Swadesh Deepak who created a countrywide flutter through this play. " – Ajit Roy, Navbharat Times
- "This play raises a serious question – Can we move into the 21st century with a narrow mindset?" -Renuka Suryavanshi, TNN PUNE
- Translation of a Short Story by Swadesh Deepak (from The Little Magazine)
- Media Feature on Swadesh Deepak
- Swadesh Deepak, sir, a poem by Samartha Vashishtha
- Synopsis and Reviews of Court Martial
- News about Swadesh Deepak Court Martial
- Court Martial at FTII, by Swatantra Theatre PUNE