| London, UK | 11 June 2017 | Asia Samachar |
Kailash Puri, Punjab’s first ‘agony aunt’ and sexologist who called herself Humraaz Maasi, died in London on Friday. She was 92.
“Our time was more innocent. We lived such a protected life. Now young people take all the responsibility on their shoulders,” she said a decade ago in an interview with the London-based newspaper The Guardian.
Kailash Puri leaves behind a legacy of inspiring a generation of women who found in her the confidante who would answer the questions they could ask no one. Absolutely no one. A woman talking about romance and lovemaking openly wasn’t something that the Punjabi society could have accepted easily. But she did, beginning by answering queries about women’s problems in the 1950s in a magazine called Subhagwati edited by her and then Qaumi Ekta, reports The Tribune.
“In the 1960s, when Punjabi women in England had no access to marriage counselling and mental health services, Kailash did a great service being the shoulder to cry on. They approached her through letters and telephone opening up their hearts. It must have helped them a lot,” the report quoted a close friend London-based writer Amarjit Chandan.
Being a sexologist and “agony aunt” to Punjabi women wasn’t easy. A major challenge lay in the fact that Punjabi was an inhibited language and there hadn’t been terms to describe private parts and personal hygiene. How did Kailash Puri deal with them? Well, she coined new ones. So, clitoris was madan chhatri (cupid’s umbrella) and pubic hair was pashm (silk).
The author of dozens of books had also produced an autobiography, Pool of Life: The Autobiography of a Punjabi Agony Aunt (The Sussex Library of Asian Studies), together with Eleanor Nesbitt.
Her marriage, as a shy 15-year-old, with no knowledge of English, to a scientist, Gopal Puri, brought ever-widening horizons as husband and wife moved from India to London, and later to West Africa, before returning to the UK in 1966.
Her initial days were captured in an interview with the London-based Guardian newspaper in 2007. In the article entitled ‘The agony and the ecstasies’, is says: “Kailash Puri was just 15 and living in India when she accepted an arranged marriage to a 26-year-old man she had never met. Her future husband, Gopal, had a doctorate; Kailash had left school at 14. And two years after their wedding, unable to speak a word of English, she had to follow him to London.
“Living in a cramped bedsit in Paddington, Gopal would bring colleagues home to dinner. Kailash cooked but was unable to talk to the guests. From such unpromising beginnings, though, she went on to become the author of 40 books (most of them written in Punjabi), a poet, a cook and an agony aunt, offering frank advice that has been devoured by millions of wives, husbands and families in Britain and India.”
Gopal suggested they set up a women’s magazine, Subhagwati (Versatile Woman), when they returned to India for a spell during the 50s. “We were an average couple. We fought, we argued, we did all the average-couple things,” she told the newspaper.
When readers sent their problems in to the magazine, Kailash began responding to them. “To my great amazement the magazine was an overnight success,” she says. “People were so repressed in those days. Women were not allowed to share their grievances or their hardships. They just suffered. I was the one to whom they could talk in confidence. They asked me questions about love-making, romance, all sorts of things.”
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What really caught my attention was the sentence: “A major challenge lay in the fact that Punjabi was an inhibited language and there hadn’t been terms to describe private parts and personal hygiene.”
As a gynaecologist I faced the same problem with Punjabi women who spoke no English and hardly any Malay. It always struck me as strange that I could take an entire gynae history ,using the most polite and delicate words in Cantonese, making my Chinese patients comfortable but couldn’t do the same in Punjabi; and I still cannot. I should have asked my gynae colleagues in Punjab; surely they must have some polite terminology in Punjabi.