Recently, GoaChronicle had a detailed conversation with artist Punam Rai, who is indeed an inspiration to each and every one of us, teaching the world how one can defeat all the challenges of life and emerge victorious.
Punam’s life has been full of obstacles which are not easy to cross, but with her perseverance and optimism, she now lives a life inspiring and impacting others, and wants everyone to remember her through her artwork, even after she is gone. Rai told us how, not long after her marriage, she was pushed down the third floor by her husband and in-laws, who were pressurizing and tormenting her for dowry. This resulted in a severe spinal injury and because of which, she was bedridden for 17 long years and now, walks with the help of a walker.
Punam graduated from the Benaras Hindu University (BHU), with a painting honours degree in the year 1995, and she was married in 1996. Within a few days of getting married, her husband and in-laws started torturing her for dowry. And when she gave birth to a girlchild, her in-laws persecuted her even more and said that both Punam and her daughter should be killed.
We asked her a few questions to get an insight into her life journey, struggles, and how she overcame all of them to lead the life she is currently living.
How did you manage to cope with all the hardships you faced in life?
After 2-3 months of my daughter being born, I was pushed from the third floor while I was on the terrace, lying clothes to dry them up. I did not even realise how I was taken to the hospital or by whom. Following this, my father, late Bindeshwar Rai, who was a PWD Engineer, and my elder brother, Naresh Kumar Rai, brought me back to Varanasi.
As a result of my injury, I was bedridden for 17 years, and was also in a coma, and now, I walk with the help of a walker, proving my doctors wrong, who had stated that I will never be able to stand on my feet again. My daughter is now pursuing a degree in Mass Communications from Varanasi.
Despite all this, I never thought that I have a problem to face, I am confronting the world, the society, and I want to work in a manner which will make people remember me even after I am gone.
What is the mission of your NGO, the BR Foundation?
BR Foundation, situated in Varanasi, is named after my late father, Bindeshwar Rai, and I provide girls with classes of art and craft, taekwondo, dance, painting, and self-defence free of cost and I fund the students and their activities with the money I receive through my painting exhibitions.
How was your experience at the Purple Fest, Goa?
I had a wonderful experience at the fest and realised that there is much more to life and much to give to others and do for others to make them smile.
What is your alliance with the Thomas Seva Foundation aimed at?
Till now, I had nobody to fund my activities or promote my work of art, but now, Thomas Seva Foundation and its Co-Chairman and Trustee, Savio Rodrigues have stepped in to help me to let the world know about my paintings and passion.
It was Rodrigues who invited me to the Purple Fest as a motivational speaker and guest, and motivated me to work even harder for my dreams. Soon, Thomas Seva Foundation and I will be launching our fashion accessory line, featuring my works of art, which will be promoted in India and globally.
What achievements of yours help you to move forward with more enthusiasm?
Back in 2019, when PM Modi had visited Varanasi, I had gifted him a portrait of himself, and the PM had praised my art and had tweeted about the same. It feels good after your talent helps you make an identity for yourself and the world knows you for the same. That was when I realised that I should take my art forward.
I also set a world record with my painting on a 6-feet canvas, which demonstrates the feelings of women through the different phases of life, from childhood to old age. I the piece because of PM Modi and the launch of the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ mission by him, and it was this point when I knew I had to create a ‘masterpiece’ and carve an identity for myself in this world.
The second world record was set by me in 2018, during the longest live painting marathon held in Manali, wherein, with my team of 6-7 artists, I had painted a 50-feet long canvas.
Punam’s art exhibitions keep on taking place at various places like Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur, and she lives her life and funds her NGO with the money she receives through them.