Punjabi Women and Writing

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Following on from recent successes, such as being asked to lecture German students in Berlin University about being a British-Asian disabled woman writer, Kuli Kohli expands on her experience of setting up a Punjabi women’s writing group in Wolverhampton

A young British Asian woman Kuli Kohli sits reading poetry in apublic library

The Punjabi Women’s Writers group were at Wolverhampton Central library for Diwali 2018. Featuring readings of work from Kuli Kohli, Santosh Kumari, Nirmal Orjally & Kumlaish Kumari and a display of artwork by Komlaish Achall. Photo © Andrew Miles

I have lived and experienced a Punjabi lifestyle in many different lights. I know many second-generation Punjabi women living in the UK, like myself, who have desires and dreams. These women’s dreams have been suppressed through the sacrifice of being dutiful wives, mothers, grandmothers, daughters and daughters-in-law.

Writing and Punjabi women is not a very good match. Punjabi women who express a desire in writing and art are thought of as ‘time wasters’. Punjabi’s usually think that we should be doing something more productive with our precious time, like looking after the family and learning to sew and cook etc. I’m a lucky fish, who has escaped the fishing net.

Although I have done what is expected of me, I have a disability and do not have to obey all the codes of living in a Punjabi family. I can’t cook, drive or do the housework like normal women.

I have asked Punjabi women why they don’t write their stories in poetry or prose. They have answered: “We are dedicated to our families and nothing else… our passions should be devoted to our extended families without any fuss! We have to organise not only homely duties but also take a lead role in family weddings, parties, what to wear, keep track of relatives here and overseas with a necessity to know what every relative is doing.”

A group of four British Asian woman pose for the camera

The Punjabi Women’s Writers group were at Wolverhampton Central library for Diwali 2018. Featuring readings of work from Kuli Kohli, Santosh Kumari, Nirmal Orjally & Kumlaish Kumari and a display of artwork by Komlaish Achall. Photo © Andrew Miles

I do understand this through experience, as when I try and dedicate an hour or so to my writing, it is always done in odd hours i.e. early morning before 7 am or during my lunch hour at work. If I try to write something on the weekend in the day time it’s a big struggle. I write a line, then wash some dishes, write a word, then hang out the laundry, write another line, then attend to the children or my husband… These tasks are never-ending. It’s amazing that my writing ever makes any sense.

I have been running the Punjabi Women’s Writing Group in Wolverhampton since May 2018 (which I wrote about last October on my DAO blog). I have heard some amazing stories that really need to be told. Owing to the highly ‘entertaining’ experiences of Punjabi women, it seems almost impossible that they manage to write or engage in anything at all.

During the last hour I’ve been writing this I have been disturbed by children, phone calls, washing machines, cooking, and uninvited visitors… so the proof is here and this is what stops Punjabi women’s stories from unfolding.

Although these stumbling-blocks exist, there are always ways in which we can do the things we love without causing too many problems. These ways include telling little white lies, “I am doing the ironing or watching something important, or I am going shopping and I will be back in a couple of hours or so or I am going to a training course at work that requires a late night…” I don’t believe that these little fibs should be taken seriously as they give us an opportunity to fulfill our desires. But realities are harsh. Family life shuts the doors to many experiences, owing to expectations and duties.

A table of refreshments at a Punjabi women's writers event

Diwali 2018 in the Central Library Wolverhampton. Photo © Andrew Miles

I believe because we are Punjabi women we should get a chance to tell our stories. Every woman has a story and our stories are not in the loop as much as others. If a Punjabi woman does anything against her culture or beliefs it is not recognized because it is taboo or she is not talking about important subjects that concern all societies. Yet if Punjabi women have an informal platform where they are able to gossip and talk about their peers, or if they enjoy talking their hearts out about others, they are labeled as gossips. I think that all writers are gossips in their own constructive ways, some better than others.

I have set up this Punjabi Women’s Writer’s Group for a reason with help and support from Offa’s Press. If you want to join our group please contact me on kuli.kohli@hotmail.co.uk and I will get in touch.

If you are interested in seeing the Punjabi Women’s Group in action, then please come to our performance at the Wolverhampton Original Literature Festival (WOLF3) event on 1st February 2019 at 4:30 pm at the Wolverhampton Art Gallery. Tickets £3 available tickets will be available at the door of the event or via the link here.

Here is a poem I wrote about being a woman downloadable here as a PDF

A Woman Like Me (poem)