Kailash Puri- the story of India’s forgotten Sexologist
The world that running after sex becomes quite to the matters related to ‘sex’. The word ‘sex’ in itself is the biggest taboo, because ‘yeh to bas chaar diwaro ki beech ki baatein hai’! Sex is an ancient taboo yet a modern passion, and the gravity of it differs by region. When we talk about western countries, society encourages sexual intimacy whereas a view upon Asian countries makes us realize how much of it is stigmatized. This happens because the idea of sex is highly associated with one’s morality and pride. Our perception defines a person as bad or good only with their ‘ideas’ about sex. This has to do a lot with our cultural preferences for pride and dignity.
Yet, in the 21st century that still deals with sex inside the hidden walls of patriarchy; it’s quite amusing to know about a woman who debunked the taboo back in the ’60s. Kailash Puri widely known as the ‘Agony Aunty’ was an award-winning sexologist of the bygone era. She became a shoulder for all the crying women who suffered the misogyny and agony of the taboo associated with sex. In a world where sex still lies under the blankets of shame and dignity, the story of ‘Agony Aunty’ in itself seems inspiring and incline.
The Journey of Kailash Puri to Agony Aunty
The legacy of Kailash Puri is reflected in women who found their confidante in her for things they could ask none. Born in 1925 in Rawalpindi, Punjab, in a conservation Punjabi family, her background defines how much women suffer from patriarchal misogyny they’ve been forced into. Thus sailing out the sea of miseries, Kailash Puri managed to become the ‘agony aunty’ for several Punjabi women settled across the country and beyond. She talked about private body parts and lovemaking in public even when the women inside the room would become uncomfortable to be a part of. Women sufferers of domestic violence to impotence, adultery, alcoholism, dowry, and more, would find their counseling inside the words of Kailash Puri.
During her childhood days, Kailash would spend her days among her elders who would teach her the role of a woman in the hierarchy and how she must be good at everything but speaking to become a good daughter-in-law. In her book ‘Pool of Life’ she describes “A bride’s first priority was to please her mother-in-law. Only then would she be accepted into her husband’s family.” When she was 16, Kailash met the love of her life Gopal Singh Puri, a young scientist of her time. They met at a family function when Gopal asked his mother to let him marry Kailash. It was a huge scandal back in the time because the meeting of a girl and a boy was considered inappropriate in the aesthetics of the ’60s. But overcoming all the hurdles, the duo managed to get married when she was just 16. After two years of her marriage, Gopal received a Research Fellowship through the Government of India in Plant Ecology for a second doctorate at University College, London. In the 20th century when Kailash was still a teen, she traveled through Bombay to Southampton in England with her husband towards the end of world war two to get settled in London.
It was during this time when Kailash noticed the wide gap between the perspectives about such a topic in a world she settled in from a world she came from. Familiarizing with the new society, Kailash started recognizing women’s issues back in her hometown. She recalled how hard it was for her to learn English and interact with the people in London. Only if she had been privileged enough to study it would have been much easier for her to manage her life in the new world. Thus, despite the challenges she gave birth to two daughters and a son.
However, after the partition of India, Gopal was appointed as an ecologist in the Indian Forest Research Survey and thus the couple returned and settled in Dehradun. Kailash would spend her days baking cakes and interacting at various social events. She won many baking contests after which she even started writing features for several Punjabi magazines. Once she received a response from one of the editors who asked her to write three-page features per week for his magazine. It was a platform where apart from sharing the cooking tips she was also free to write on any topic she feels necessary to. She wrote many articles on women, marital relationships, interior decor, and gardening. Soon she started receiving letters from women who seek advice from her on their marital problems such as menopause and backaches. She would often write them back but answering every question in only a three-page feature was quite difficult. Thus with the support of her husband, in 1956 Kailash Puri launched her own Punjabi literary magazine, Subhagvati. Here she would write about women’s issues such as domestic matters, familial relationships, children, and current affairs.
Life As a Sexologist
When the government of India focused on birth control, Kailash wrote in favor of it and received huge backlash for supporting the idea. She was criticized for her liberal writings and thoughts. Her work was a big headache for religious leaders and men who found her work closely related to pornography. But the more she wrote the more she understood the problems related to sex on which none was talking about. Thus she started addressing these issues despite the criticism and helping the grieving women to overcome them. Discussing private parts she recognized that there isn’t much vocabulary present inside the Punjabi language for sex and so she coined new terms such as Madan chhatri (cupid’s umbrella) for the clitoris, and pashm (silk) for pubic hair.
Soon Kailash Puri became the ‘agony aunty’ for the Punjabi women. She was recognized for her work and won several awards including the Woman of Achievement Award in 1999, the position of the Ambassador of Peace in 2000, Woman of the Year in 1984, and the Lifetime Achievement Award (Ealing) in 2004. She would often openly discuss sex in the meetings and debunked the taboo related to the matter.
The journey of Kailash Puri is an inspiration for every woman in the country to destroy the patriarchal chains they’ve been linked to. Women should start speaking and discussing sexual issues in public to help society gradually accepts them as an issue and not a taboo. To build a strong foundation for sexual health in the country what can be done is obtaining information and attitudes, beliefs, and values about one’s identity, relationships, and intimacy. Sex education is very important for every society to learn about sexual health and remove the stigma attached with it.