Princess of Punjabi Poesy
Dr. Vanita, 60
Poet and literary critic
For a city often reviled for endless reasons, Dr Vanita’s praise comes as a reminder that there is much to cherish about Delhi, a city that everyone seems to take for granted. It was here that the once shy, under-confident young bride and fine arts student from Amritsar became an award-winning Punjabi poet and translator.
“I moved to Delhi in 1974 after my marriage. I was expected to be a good homemaker. So I put my dreams on hold to put the needs of my children first,” she says. The city’s rich cultural life provided immense exposure to this former student of classical music. “Unlike Amritsar, which did not have such facilities, Delhi was a cultural hub with exhibitions, music programmes and plays being held daily,” says Vanita, who received the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2010 for her poetry collection titled Kaal, Pehar, Gharian. She is the current vice-president of the India chapter of the World Punjabi Congress.
Eighteen years after her marriage, Vanita felt it was time to do something for herself. She did her MA, MPhil and PhD in Punjabi literature, and in 1999 started teaching at Khalsa College in Delhi University. She continued writing poetry, which she had been doing since her college days. Being multi-lingual, Vanita also started translating books to Punjabi and received several awards for her translations. Her oeuvre of 40 books includes works of criticism, monographs, travelogues and anthologies that she edited. “All the exposure that Delhi provided made me this confident person who has travelled across the world all by herself for poetry meets and conferences,” says Vanita, who has authored six books of poetry, with the seventh, Sahej Chup, soon to be released.
“Delhi offers endless opportunities to those who wish to learn. When I look back on my life, all these achievements were possible because I was living in Delhi,” she says. Vanita’s poetry and critical writing focuses on Indian feminism and women’s issues. “I wrote my first book in Punjabi on feminism in 2000, Narivad Aur Sahitya,” she says.
“I try to forge an emotional connect with my students so that I can mentor them academically and even with their personal issues, ethics, confidence. I am a friendly teacher, but I know when to be stern,” she says.
“There are no ifs and buts on how an individual conducts him or herself here, unlike in smaller cities,” she points out. “Nobody bothers even if you wear flip-flops to a five-star hotel or a night-suit pyjama to the market. Here people put their comforts first. You live your own life in Delhi,” she says.