- “Writing came to me in the late 1960’s when I was approached by representatives of Longman Publishers. They were looking for local talent. I wrote four books for them while I was still a teacher.”
- It could be five pages or five paragraphs or five lines or just five words. It does not matter, but every single day, I have to put down something. And I am not about to stop.”
- Publisher Lawrence Njagi, the managing director or Mountain Top Publishers, says that selling the 43 titles and closing Dhillon Publishers that ceased publishing in 2012 was the only option that Malkiat had.
Along Factory Street in Nairobi’s Industrial Area, near Landi Mawe, there sits a string of large buildings surrounded by a wall fence and automated gates.
From afar, they look like warehouses or factory buildings.
Once the gates are opened, a couple of guards, a chugging machine room, crates upon crates full of rims of paper and gallons of ink provide the welcome.
On the first floor of the building, a smiling secretary ushers visitors into a large, warm brown coloured office whose waiting area is furnished with black leather seats and a glass table and a thick lush carpet on the floor.
On one side of the room is a large round table with several leather seats around it. On the other side is a desk and a seat.
Its occupant is not yet in the room.
When he finally walks in, he does not quite look like what I expected.
You see, the man is Malkiat Singh. Yes, that one.
The man whose name is synonymous with 8-4-4, KCPE, KCSE and success cards.
His is a household name in schools and homes countrywide as he is the most prolific author and publisher of revision books for schools in the country.
Malkiat Singh’s revision books have been in numerous school bags over the past 43 years. And yes, he is a very financially successful author, ranking high up there with author Wallah bin Wallah.
Malkiat is not tall, yet one can’t call him short either. He is not loud when he talks, but then again, he is not soft spoken either.
He is calm, with a firm handshake. Grey hair, clear eyes. He calls for refreshments from his secretary.
Dressed in a brown pair of khaki trousers and a simple jungle green shirt, he is the opposite of what his name connotes.
With all his success as a publisher and author, why has he remained in the shadows of the city — down in Industrial area — when he could easily have moved to the city centre or some up market area?
Does he have a family, anyone we should know of?
Above all, why did he decide to sell his 43 titles to Longhorn Publishers in August, yet his publishing firm was among the best performing in the country?
Could he be running out of ideas or has he just seen a new opportunity or maybe, just maybe, has he bought Longhorn Publishers in a backstage deal? Could that be it?
In 1938, at a farm in Burj village in Punjab, India, Malkiat Singh was born. School and farm work were the order of his life then.
On finishing high school, he moved to Punjab University to persue a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Political Science. He graduated in 1958.
He married the same year at 20 years of age, jobless and straight out of university.
It sounds like the start of a movie with an unpredictable ending.
His wife, Mohinder Kaur, is a Kenyan of Indian origin. After the marriage, he left his homeland to move to Kenya with the wife. Since then, he only visits India occasionally.
“When I arrived, I wanted any job. I needed money to support my family. A relative of ours decided to apply for a teaching job on my behalf. He filled the forms and submitted them to Eastleigh Primary School. They invited me for an interview and got the job,” he says.
He taught at Eastleigh Primary School for a year and-a-half, then he was promoted to Nairobi Technical High School, which was essentially a secondary school.
There he taught History, English, Literature and Mathematics. With this background, one can understand how one man could write books on language, mathematics, history and civics.
Nostalgically, he goes back to the time when he started writing.
“Writing came to me in the late 1960’s when I was approached by representatives of Longman Publishers. They were looking for local talent. I wrote four books for them while I was still a teacher.”
He adds that in 1975, he left teaching to concentrate fully on writing. It is the only thing he has done since earning a place in schools and households and claiming a cornerstone in Kenya’s education system.
There is something purposeful about him. “I have to write something every day, except on Sunday.