City Special – Obituary of Kaushal Nagpal, a Retired School Teacher Who Died of COVID-19, Faridabad
A life lost to the Coronavirus.
[Text by Mayank Austen Soofi; photos shared by Kaushal Nagpal’s family]
A retired school teacher, a devout follower of Arya Samaj, a Partition refugee, and a feminist, Kaushal Nagpal died of coronavirus in June 2020, aged 78. She is survived by two sons and three grandchildren.
It all started with a major milestone: at 8, Ms Nagpal was the first girl in her village to go to school. That was in Dujana, then in the district of Rohtak, Haryana, and her father, an officer in the Indian Railways, had to take special permission from the principal to get her admitted.
Most of the subsequent life-shaping experiences happened almost simultaneously: she got married (to an advocate working in the district court in Karnal) and became the mother of two boys (and carer of her elderly parents-in-law) while pursuing higher studies and eventually becoming a school teacher (specializing in History, Hindi and English). As a young independent working woman in the 1980s, in an otherwise conservative town, Ms Nagpal thus had to combine her career with the traditional occupations expected from a woman of her milieu.
It was no small thing.
Ms Nagpal would get up every morning at 4.30 am, prepare breakfast and lunch for the family and leave home at 6 am sharp, first in a rickshaw to the Bus Stand, and from there in the bus to the government school in a village in the district. She would return by 4.30 pm. After a half-an-hour nap in her bedroom, she would take care of the domestic errands, including helping her sons with their school homework. She would sit with one of the boys, and her husband, Prithvi Raj, with another — they would, indeed, share some of the household chores. After she would leave for school in the morning, for instance, he would set the kitchen in order, make chai for his parents, and help their sons get ready for school, making it a habit to daily oil and comb their hair.
In 1997, Ms Nagpal took up early retirement and moved with her husband to Faridabad’s Sector 28, in the house shared by sons Subhash and Gajendra, and their families.
Her life then became more quiet, and more spiritual. She developed a particular interest for the writings of Swami Dayanand Saraswati, became more active in the Arya Samaj, and got a corner —the Yag Shala —especially built in the house to daily perform yagnas and havans. Every morning she would preside for two hours over the ceremony, offering ghee and scented “samagri” to the sacred fire in the havan kund. The comforting fragrance spreading through the air would appease her, as if the world around was getting purified.
But Ms Nagpal also remained a teacher. Every afternoon she would summon Shivani, the young daughter of the house maid Anita, to her room. The lessons would be given from her bed, crosslegged, her back resting on the pillow.
Born in August 1942, in what is now Pakistani Punjab, Ms Nagpal vividly remembered the train journey her family took to the newly independent India during Partition. Her mother was wearing a locket filled with poison, so as to quickly end their lives in case rioters attacked the coach.
As she was placed under a ventilator in Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Ms Nagpal never learnt of her husband’s demise on June 9 in a hospital in Faridabad. He, too, had died of coronavirus, and she died five days later. Their ashes were buried in an Arya Samaj park in Faridabad. Her children planted mango and neem trees on the spot.
Life and times of Kaushal Nagpal