Malkiat Singh’s one-man publishing force presses on
SEE ALSO :Students swindle bursary team“Of course it entails grasping the basic concepts of the syllabus as laid down by the Ministry of Education,” says Malkiat. Looking at the salt-and-pepper bearded Malkiat, one can swear that he is not a day older than 60. But looks can be deceiving. “For the disbelieving types I normally tell them that I am 55, but with the rider that it excludes weekends,” says the 75-year-old with a knowing smile. So what is his secret for remaining fit at such an advanced age? “I am a member of Parklands Sports Club and Nairobi Gymkana,” he explains. “I go for workouts to remove extra calories.” To show his appreciation for the 8-4-4 system of education – the goose that laid the golden egg for him – for a long time he ensured that all his vehicles’ number plates had ‘844’ in them. He, reluctantly, stopped the custom “for security reasons” after the Sunday Nation profiled him and mentioned the oddity.
SEE ALSO :MPs want prompt funding for TVETThen, he was a teacher at the Technical High School, which is today Nairobi Technical Institute, in Ngara. “I got to know Tom Openda, who was sales rep for Longman, and he told me that they were looking for locally-based authors,” says Malkiat. Tom, who later became managing director of Longman Kenya, also introduced Malkiat to Indian-based Orient Longman, who commissioned the budding author to write a series of English grammar books for the Indian market. “I still get a good royalty cheque from India,” he says. At some point in his writing career, Malkiat had thought of furthering his studies in Literature from the University of Nairobi. He even approached Ngugi wa Thiong’o, then head of the Literature Department at the University. But upon realising who he was, Ngugi convinced him that his skills would better be utilised writing books. Apart from Dhillon Publishers, which he owns, Malkiat has been published by six other companies, both local and international. They include Longman UK, Orient Longman, Macmillan India, Evans Brothers UK, Vipopromo Agencies (Kenya) and Soma Group Kenya. “I always concentrate all my efforts in providing publishers with manuscripts that they find commercially viable,” he says. Malkiat, who got his BA degree at the age of 20 from India’s Punjab University in 1958, came to Kenya the same year. “My results had to be sent by post,” he explains. He had just got himself a bride and was looking forward to settling down. His bride’s parents, though living in Kenya, originally came from Malkiat’s village in Burj, Punjab. As is the custom, theirs was an arranged marriage. “My parents were especially keen to have one of their children live abroad,” recalls Malkiat. “Apart from being the first one from our village with university education, I was also the first one to go abroad.” The arrangement also worked well for his future parents-in-law as it was important that the husband to their daughter, Mohinder Dhillon, was someone who would easily get a job in Kenya. Malkiat started off his teaching career at Eastleigh Primary, where he taught all subjects for about one-and-a-half years. He later joined Technical High School, where he taught Maths and History up to ‘O’ Levels, and English Language and Literature at ‘A’ Level. At the time, he says, Asians dominated and the school had very few African students. “I resigned from teaching in 1975 and took up writing on full-time basis,” he adds. Malkiat, who has over 100 textbooks published in his name, is not about put his pen down. “I still have the energy, the motivation and the drive, so why stop?” he asks rhetorically. The author is a father of two daughters, both based in the UK. The younger one, Simi Dhillon is a maths teacher and has co-authored books with him. Malkiat reveals that he is currently working on a book on English idioms for the schools market. He promised that The Nairobian will be the first to know a major announcement regarding the future of his writing. “This one is big,” he says cryptically. “It will have a major effect on the Kenyan publishing industry.”