Thursday, 19 January 2017

An obituary

Arwa Penna, the author, poet, traveler, blogger and serial nut, has died aged 90. According to one of her few surviving friends, her last words were that death had taken its own time.

Work was her life and unspectacular in every way. But on retiring she began to travel, a taste of which she got during a three-year break from work. She trekked the Himalayas and ghats of Western India and travelled well into her 80s, resulting in books on travel, poetry and fiction, almost all of which was vigorously rejected by publishers.

Some of her poetry was published, but not well received. She was, as she said in an interview with the Telegraph, “Over the moon it was published, grateful for the crumbs of fame, and eventually crushed by the rejection and derisive criticism it attracted.”

After being widowed, she embarked, with some surprise, on a series of ‘indiscretions’ with men, all notably younger. As she said of her Syrian Christian self, “When I was young, I was repressed and inhibited. Strangely, in my dotage men seem to find me interesting, which is hugely flattering. What’s the harm in a pleasant distraction.”

The longest such distraction was a pint-sized Tunisian, a financial whiz and already in possession of a wife and a brood of children. The pair met frequently, sometimes in other countries, something Arwa attributed to keeping her on her toes, physically and emotionally.

She was a supporter of equal inheritance and property rights for women and equal rights in the workplace. In the 36 years of her career, she did not get a single promotion. A manager, later a friend, attributed it to her ‘voluble’ and ‘aggressive’ nature. In almost all the companies she worked with, she attempted to join their trade unions, perceived as a threat by their respective managements. One newspaper group, the Bombay Pavwalla, blocked her every application/attempt to join the union. The matter was taken to court and so fiercely fought that it proved to be the company’s undoing. It was eventually liquidated and the case was closed just before Arwa reached retirement at age 58.

Arwa’s constant fights with management, however, stole the shine from her real achievements. She got them to help nearby villages generate electricity, implement organic farming methods and helped create a crude form of co-operative farm insurance.

Arwa’s intense quirkiness came out in her writing and most aspects of her later life. At age 51, she embarked on a hiatus, trekking in the Himalayas, living off herbs, fruits and food offered by kindly villagers, sleeping in the rough, swimming the ice cold rivers and rejoicing the death of her menses.

At age 54, she broke her leg while running down the stairs at Dehradun railway station for a train to Bardhhaman, following which she decided to return to Mumbai. And get a job.

A number of consultancies led to a senior editorial role at an investment bank, where she managed to get a series 16 certification, something that had eluded her for more than 18 years in the industry.

At her retirement, she was gifted a gold-plated ball point pen and a copy of Jeffrey Archer’s Honour Among Thieves, both of which prominently sported price tags. She was not sure if the title was meant to mean anything. The book she had read before. She attributed the price tags and book choice to the careless attitude of modern corporates and the plastics manning them.
  

No comments:

Post a Comment