May 2018 was the start to something new, something quite out of the ordinary… it was the start to Wolverhampton’s first ever Punjabi Women’s Writing Group.
There are a few Punjabi Shyiaree (poetry) groups around but none which is dedicated to and run by Punjabi Women.
Offa’s Press manager, Simon Fletcher, has played an active role in encouraging and promoting multi-cultural writing in the West Midlands. Simon is part of a multi-cultural poetry group ‘Mini Mushira’ which consists of 3 poets from very different backgrounds – Debjani Chatterjee, from Delhi, Basir Sultan Kazmi, from Lahore & Simon who’s originally from rural Worcestershire.
Simon has actively worked in the writing scene for over 20 years and encouraged people from all cultures and backgrounds in the north of England and the West Midlands to write and perform their work. He noticed an absence of Punjabi women writers and performers and has tried to encourage these women for a long time. It has been a bit of a struggle, perhaps a forlorn hope, because Punjabi women are attached and deeply involved with family life, being wives, mothers, sisters etc. Writing their stories and poems isn’t seen as something important.
When I was published by Offa’s Press, it was a very good opportunity for Simon to get something new sorted out for Punjabi women, to see if there was genuine interest to get the untold stories of Punjabi lives out in the open. After many discussions and months of getting people involved in writing, it became an urgent desire to know what Punjabi women were experiencing and of course to get their stories written.
I was asked by Simon to see if Punjabi women wanted to come together and form a writing group one way or another. It was a bit of a nightmare to be honest, because these women had devoted their lives to serving their direct families, husbands, children, extended families, etc. To be let out of the house for a couple of hours to chat and write seemed to be impossible!
However, I managed to round up some women who were interested in writing and telling their stories. Getting them together to meet up at first was very challenging. However, I managed it. Then, finding a suitable location, we found an ideal Indian coffee shop, Zuri’s in Wolverhampton city centre. Choosing a day to meet was also very frustrating so in the end we chose the last Thursday of the month. Although not everyone could attend on this day, it was the best we could do.
In the last few months, the ladies in the group found it very challenging and inspiring to get something written down on paper and I would meet up with them separately via email or on a one to one basis and go through the work they had written.
We were working towards producing some work which could be performed at a Diwali event at Central Library in Wolverhampton (but they didn’t know this). I had faith in my ladies and little by little they all began to produce some good pieces of work.
On the 19 October 2018, Wolverhampton saw its first ever Punjabi Women’s Writing Group performance: stories and poetry with art works from Komlaish Achall. We were very well received by an excellent audience. Although it was a short event, we needed to test the water to see the quality of it. We received very good and positive feedback from the audience and library staff involved. Our next appearance will be at the Wolverhampton Original Literature Festival (WOLF3) in February 2019.
I am proud to include some examples of the new writings of the Punjabi Women’s Writing Group members:
Tug of War written by Nirmal Orjally
…she’s married to a family…
in her dreams she’s married to one,
the one, who’d be the love of her life.
Yet her life belongs not to him,
she belongs to a chain
not of gold, but of relatives.
Stretched like an elastic band,
one day she’ll snap!
Weaving Dreams written by Santosh Kumari
For no found reason, I begin to weave,
removing the layers of ‘if and buts’,
mulling over the maybes, possibilities,
gliding through darkness to find dawn.
For no found reason, I begin to weave
in the rain, happy rainbows.
Stars sparkling like my koka,
treading on thorns to enchanted places.
For no found reason, I begin to weave;
reaching out, boundless, limitless
like the seconds on a clock.
My bindi smiles as I fly on magic rugs.
For no found reason – I have woven,
dropped stitches, stained with loss,
held together with fine golden thread.
Done! My dreams have been woven.
Punjabi words –
Koka – Nose jewel
Bindi – Forehead jewel
The Gift (extract from story) written by Kumlaish Kumari
Self-love is hard to teach, I found mine grew in a pool of water surrounded by compassion, care and determination, that’s what fed and nurtured me, that’s what taught me to grapple with being the focus of attention, and to be comfortable with someone determined to do something for me. This was water therapy of the best kind.
My daughters gift to me, has taken on a different purpose, as I now cope with a physically challenging disability. Swimming is something I can do when I can’t do much else. Keeping me whole, independent, lifting my mood, satisfying my desire to move freely, elegantly, gracefully, to move fast or slow, back stroke or crawl. To do aqua aerobics or not, the choice is mine. I have choices.
Happy Diwali to all!!