Author on Reading His Book About a 100-Year-Old Runner to His Kids: “This Is Why Representation Matters”
When activist Simran Jeet Singh was growing up in Texas, all he wanted was to see books and movies that represented the Sikh community and had characters who looked like him; to be seen in popular culture rather than feel that all forms of entertainment were created for and about someone else. This childhood experience, coupled with becoming a parent and raising his two daughters in a not-dissimilar situation with regard to mainstream representation, inspired Simran to write the book he wished he’d had on his bookshelf as a kid.
And thus, Fauja Singh Keeps Going: The True Story of the Oldest Person to Ever Run a Marathon was born.
“Being absent from pop culture made me feel so invisible. I didn’t want our kids to carry those same feelings.”
As a kid, Simran told POPSUGAR, he “wanted nothing more than to see books and movies and shows featuring characters with turbans and beards and brown skin.” The activist added: “Our unique appearance means that we’re so visible everywhere we go, and yet, being absent from pop culture made me feel so invisible. I didn’t want our kids to carry those same feelings.”
So Simran set out to write his children’s book about the life of Fauja Singh, a man who broke world records when he became the first 100-year-old to run a marathon in 2011. In the beginning of the book, Simran outlines Fauja’s experience growing up in Punjab, India, where he overcame physical challenges such as learning how to walk, then farm, then run, despite the limitations that others placed on him. “I knew what I was capable of,” a 108-year-old Fauja says in the book’s foreword. “I kept trying. I never gave up. And I always held on to hope.”
The rest of Fauja’s story is one of determination, inclusion, and, most importantly for Simran and his girls, commitment to the positive representation of the Sikh community.
“One of my dreams for this book is that people of all backgrounds see it as a beautiful story with which they can connect.”
“The first time I read it to my older daughter made it all worth it,” Simran said. “We turned to a page where a youngish Fauja Singh is doing his daughter’s hair, and my own daughter squealed with delight, ‘Hey, that’s like you and me every morning!’ My heart just melted. This is why representation matters.”
He continued: “One of my dreams for this book is that people of all backgrounds see it as a beautiful story with which they can connect. Too often, we say representation matters, but if the characters don’t look like us, we consider that these stories are for someone else. This outlook will only keep us divided. It’s when we begin to value one another’s stories and enter into one another’s worlds that we will begin to see our shared humanity. I believe sincerely that if we can teach our kids to see humanity in those who seem most different from them, then they can learn to see the humanity in everyone they encounter. And isn’t that the kind of world we want to create for our children?”
Scroll through to get a peek at the inside of Fauja Singh Keeps Going – which is full of beautiful illustrations by Baljinder Kaur – and to buy a copy for your child’s bookshelf.