Jai Verma: an interview
Beeston’s own Indian poet…
Jai Verma is a Hindi writer who has been living in Beeston for 35 years with her husband. They both retired a couple of years ago after working in the NHS. Now, Jai likes to spend time with her family, but continues to be a key part of her community through her role as a writer and promoter of the Hindi language and culture. I met with her at her home to talk about her life and writing.
Her origins are in India, where she was born in Meerut. In 1971 she moved to the UK with her family where she taught Hindi for 15 years, and was involved in translating books from English to Hindi. Her other hobbies included badminton (which the also taught), tennis, and later on, golf. For a short time, she served on the committee at Beeston Fields Golf Club.
About her teaching, she tells me, “We didn’t have any material for children in the 80s. About 31 books were done. Then I was employed by the language centre in Nottingham for 6 months. I made a thousand copies each of all these books, then they were in circulation and children were reading those books.”
Once her children were leaving home, they encouraged her to pursue her own education. She joined Broxtowe College to study Business and Finance, then went to Nottingham Trent University and did an advanced diploma in Practice Management.
“After that there was a taste for knowledge,” she says. “A hunger for knowledge, I wanted to learn more.” And she did, going on to do gain a post-graduate certificate in Service Management. This lead to her 25 years working as a practice manager with the NHS.
“I didn’t think of myself as a writer, never thought I was a writer,” she reveals. “I used to do paintings, and one day suddenly I wrote two poems. I remember it was very cold weather and we couldn’t go out of the house so I sat upstairs near the fire and then I wrote two poems.” She shared her poems with a friend, who she was a part of the Indian Women Associates with, and at one of their meetings Jai’s friend announced that Jai had some poems with her which she would then read aloud.
“I didn’t know what sort of quality my writing was. And I read them! Everyone clapped and were very happy. And someone said ‘why don’t you read it on the radio?’” That someone happened to know the radio presenter, and Jai ended up reading her poem ‘A Moment’ on air.
“Someone in Birmingham was listening and he knew us, and he rang.” He then asked if Jai attended any writing groups in Nottingham. But at the time there wasn’t any such group, so he invited Jai to Birmingham where there was a monthly poetry group she could join.
“Once I went there,” she says. “I had the opportunity to listen to other poets and writers, and talk to them. And they used to clap on my poems as well when I used to read. I didn’t know if it was good or bad, I had no idea, but that’s how I started writing and developing.”
The group encouraged her to keep writing, and to keep collecting her poems. Jai noticed that the people in the group were published and had their own books, and this inspired her to eventually put some of her poems into a collection. Her book was published in India in 2008, and called Sahyatri Hain Hum.
“It means we are the core traveller on this earth, no matter where we are, no matter where we live, we are the core traveller,” says Jai. Her book received two awards, one in India, and one here from the High Commission in London.
“Nottingham is at the heart of England, it’s the Queen of midlands.”
In 2003 Jai decided to set up her own group in Nottingham called Kavya Rang. The group was made up of Jai and two of her friends. “Today we have 27 writers. They’re writing in different languages of Asia. Four main languages: Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, and English.”
Whilst continuing to write poetry, Jai began writing stories and eventually had enough for another collection which became Saat Kadam (Seven Stories) which was published in April of this year. It was first launched at The High Commission in London, and then at The White Lion in Beeston by the Mayor of Broxtowe.
“And the mayor, very jokingly said: ‘But I will not be able to read it, because it’s in Hindi.’ And then of course I thought it’s about time these stories should be translated into English.” These stories are currently in the process of being translated and Jai hopes eventually they will be published and reach a wider audience.
Speaking about writing inevitably leads to her mentioning how inspiring she finds Nottingham, especially with its title as a City of Literature, and all the opportunities this provides for writers.
“Nottingham is a wonderful place to live. I wouldn’t like to change it. I can’t think of any better place. When I came to Nottingham and used to go and see the houses I thought Beeston was very ideal Nottingham is at the heart of England, it’s the Queen of midlands,” she says.
She adds: “Beeston has got everything; it’s a very cosy type of shopping centre. Whenever I’m driving towards the A52 I feel good going home.” At this point she hints that she’d like to join Beeston’s Civic Society, believing that it’s good to be a part of the community.
We finish with Jai offering advice to young writers, which is: “Keep writing. Never judge yourself what sort of writing you are doing. Let other people enjoy it and make the judgement. You should not worry about what sort of writing you are doing, whether it’s poetry, stories, essays or articles. Just write it, and then see afterwards.”
You can find out more about Jai and her work via her website: jaiverma.co.uk