Saturday, December 18, 2004

From scalpel to palette
Reeta Sharma

Shivdev Singh
Shivdev Singh

It is amazing to witness how the world is full of unusual and extraordinary personalities. Here, sample the life of Shivdev Singh.

A resident of Gumtti Kalan village in Bathinda district, Shivdev passed out from Punjab Public School, Nabha. At school he showed great potential as a sportsperson. While doing his B.Sc. at Ludhiana, he won medals in athletics at inter-university competitions. Soon, however, he realised that there weren't any good jobs for sportsmen and joined the Medical College, Patiala, in 1953.

Shivdev spent the next five years not only studying medicine but also fighting for the rights of students as president of the students' union. He proceeded to do his MS from Medical College, Amritsar, in general surgery. By the time he passed out in 1962, the prestigious PGI had come up at Chandigarh. In 1964, Shivdev Singh opted for Children's Paediatrics Surgery in PGI.

In 1966, Howard Medical School of the USA invited him to join a hospital for children in Boston. There Shivdev researched on artificial heart besides mastering paediatric surgery. On his return to India, the PGI appointed him Assistant Professor, Paediatrics Surgery, and by 1971, he became Associate Professor.

Shivdev went back to the USA to do a two-and-a-half-year training in general surgery in the state of Buffalo. Soon after, he acquired FRCS from Canada besides a special certification in paediatrics. He also went ahead with the American Board's exam in General Surgery, which is a post-graduation degree and passed with flying colours in 1976.

For the next 11 years, Shivdev did private practice and taught at the Wallington state of Delaware. "Life of a doctor in the USA is so consuming and demanding that it does not allow you even a minute to yourself. While I was obsessed with my profession, my wife stood by me and reared our children, allowing me to devote all my time to my profession. By 1986, it was her turn to explore her potential. Therefore, I decided to move with her to California, as she wanted to do some business."

While she ventured into food business, opening a series of 'subways', Shivdev joined as Staff Surgeon at a children's hospital in Los Angeles. By 1990, he realised that he needed to explore the inner depth of his heart. Nature had always fascinated him and he was itching to hold a paintbrush in his hand. He took admission in the Antelope Valley College of Arts in Lancaster, California, to learn painting. "I had to convince the head of the department of arts that I had not been thrown out of my job as a surgeon but was picking up the brush for my self-realisation," laughingly recalled Shivdev.

The next five years, Shivdev not only learnt to paint but also took training in guitar playing. "This was the most peaceful period of my life. I painted wilderness, which allowed me to be one with nature. The perception of colour and design is an experience in itself. In 1997, I put up my first art exhibition and displayed 102 of my paintings."

This surgeon-cum-painter-cum-guitarist has serenity writ large on his face. Often we give up our dreams but Shivdev did not hesitate to leave a lucrative job and pursue art and music for five long years. When you look at his paintings, you realise that they are the creations of a blissful mind. The vibrant colours flashed along with snow-covered peaks have a soothing effect.

His instructor from his art college in California, Glen Knowles, says, "From our first watercolour class, Shivdev was trouble. He levelled the toughest and most interesting questions I ever fielded. I soon realised, he knew how to acquire knowledge and was the fastest learner I had ever taught. Early on, he boldly chose to pursue one of the most difficult disciplines: pure transparent watercolour and plain air.

"I think he was a little surprised at how difficult a task he had selected, and how many years and how many paintings would have to be sacrificed to gain mastery of it. But Shivdev was willing to pay the price."

Shivdev's mastery of surgery has, in fact, added to his mastery of painting. The precision and the exactness with which a doctor operates is reflected in his paintings.

What now, where does his journey end? "I am now venturing into human figure drawings and paintings, which are difficult yet exhilarating. The artistic endeavour is mostly exciting but can be sometimes frustrating too. Drawing and painting is done with the heart and soul with very little logic involved," says this talented surgeon.