Mission Delhi – Ved Kumari Pahwa, Sector 52
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The coronavirus pandemic has temporarily put on hold the hyperactive lives of many folks, including of Ved Kumari Pahwa. “I was feeling especially frustrated during the lockdown… I was, and am still, very angry with corona,” says the lady, talking on phone from her fourth floor flat in Gurgaon’s Sector 52 in the Greater Delhi Region.
But then Ms Pahwa did what any writer like her does. “I wrote poems and couplets during my housebound days.”
In her late 70s, Ms Pahwa was born in pre-Partition Multan, which is now in Pakistani Punjab. She lives with her son and his family, and has a daughter living in the US. During her 38-year career in education, she served as a school principal for 19 years until retiring in 2002 from Gargi Sarvodaya Vidyalaya, in south Delhi’s Green Park. It was then that she moved from her “big house” in Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave to her “caring son’s” home in Gurgaon.
“But I have my own life and interests, and I insist on doing things on my own despite my age,” says the lady. Ms Pahwa confesses frankly that she is very popular in her housing society and “every child here knows me, some call me Naani and others call me Daadi.”
Until the coronavirus pandemic put an end to all sorts of outdoorsy activities, she would go to shopping malls, have cheese pizza (of course), browse about showrooms and then would settle down to pursue her favorite activity: “I would sit on a bench and watch people walking about…. wondering about their relationships to each other and getting subject matters for my poems.”
Ms Pahwa doesn’t bother to send her writings to publishers. She instead gets them typed into a few copies that she circulates among her friends “who would read and offer me comments.” In fact, many of the people in her housing society are her loyal readers including “Mr Dua, Dr Sharma and his wife, Dr Shukla, Rajeshwar Vashisht, Nirmal Kanti, and many others.” She says her readers find her language simple and themes relatable to daily life. She also pens original bhajans that are occasionally sung in the kirtan ceremonies held weekly in the residential complex’s club.
Just before the pandemic forced the first shutdown in March, Ms Pahwa hosted a launch of her most recent poetry collection Katra Katra Chun Liya, “which is an account of my personal experiences.” There were speeches and readings that evening “and about ten people who had already studied those poems in advance shared their views about them.”
Additionally, during the first Monday of each month, a literary meet in the housing society gives Ms Pahwa the opportunity, along with other artistic people in the neighbourhood, to read her works to a willing audience.
Like most writers, Ms Pahwa has a fixed place at home for her writing. “I’ve reserved this corner of the dining table for myself… it has my copy, my kalam (pen), my stapler and the glue… there is everything that I might need while writing so that I don’t have to get up and disturb my flow.”
Suddenly getting somber, Ms Pahwa talks of the two great events of her life that did pull her down for a while. One was the death of her husband, a scientist, the same year that she retired from her job. And two years before that, her arm had gotten paralyzed. “It was very traumatic… the right part of my body still doesn’t work… I was right-handed so I had to learn to start writing from my left hand.”
As is true with many people who harness their experiences into their artistic pursuits, Ms Pahwa says she has tried to distill disparate aspects of her life into her work. She continues to be full of plans. Her next project: “to get my new coronavirus poems typed.” And once the pandemic becomes history, she hopes to resume her mall hopping in search of ideas.
[This is the 357th portrait of Mission Delhi project]
A poet in the apartment complex