Celebrating 100 Years of the Timeless Poet Amrita Pritam
I am young and restless. All of 26. When I look back at our history, there’s one woman I am so mighty proud of. The born rebel, Amrita Pritam. A woman with words and wisdom that was fearless and unapologetic. A woman of history who I can still relate to.
First I am going to talk about her take on relationships. To take the society head on, to follow your heart passionately and build a relationship outside of marriage. Amrita Pritam fell out of her marriage and truly deeply fell for Sahir Ludhianvi, someone she related with on poetry, intellect and matters of the nation at the time. Two intense personalities, who fell in love. Many document as their relationship as one where Ludhianvi was ‘interested’ and in love but not keen to commit while Amrita Pritam thought she had profound love for him.
She dedicated a huge part of her life exploring her idea of romance and brought it out through her creative lyrics in her poems. Both lost their self in each other to the point of no redemption and hence their love story got etched in the record of most idealistic love stories of all times to come from India. She compared her love story with the love story of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir and said, “Sahir mere Sartre aur main unki Simone thi” according to this report.
Amrita’s relationships were devout and visible. They were also very well documented, in some cases by her. The Love Letters of Amrita and Imroz is another marvellous piece of work from Pritam. It presents a profound insight into the personalities of two highly creative minds. It opens up the reader to the extraordinary relationship between the renowned author and poet and her artist friend.
Ludhianvi may have given into his commitment fears but she spent the rest of her life living-in with the ‘loving and caring Imroz.’ He was not just ten years young but also charming. Amrita, who often said she met him too late in life, wrote a poem ‘Shaam ka Phool’ (The evening flower) after her first meeting with Imroz. As per one report in Hindustan Times”
Amrita presented a Punjabi programme at All India Radio (AIR) in the evening and Imroz used to look at her from his terrace. She had to commute in a bus which he didn’t like. “I had a bicycle then and started saving money, and bought a scooter soon. I met her and said now on we will go on a scooter to the AIR building. She looked at me and asked, ‘Why have you met me so late?’ I said may be, I came of age late and the money too came late,” said Imroz. He would drop her at the AIR building, pick her up after the programme and then drop her home.
Pritam’s first and only marriage to a cloth merchant’s son from Lahore was short lived.
Through her writing and poems, she became Punjab’s first most renowned poetess. Amrita Pritam was also the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award for her long poem, ‘Sunehade’. Born as Amrit Kaur in Gujranwala, Punjab (present-day Pakistan), she was inspired by her father Kartar Singh Hitkar who was also a celebrated poet and scholar of his time.
I also resonate with how she connected with Hindus and Muslims equally. Her novel ‘Pinjar’ which she wrote in 1950 is a story around a Hindu girl, Puro abducted by a Muslim man, Rashid. It is set in the times of Partition of India and shows the sentiments of people in what has been termed the biggest migration in history. It also resonates with current times starkly, as we revisit the intolerance among communities and through social media.
AMRITA PRITAM RAPID FIRE
- Amrita Pritam’s acceptance and revelation of her love for Sahir Ludhiyanvi is etched among the most historic love stories of all times
- Her depiction of the event of Partition in her stories and poems immortalise the tragic times from the eyes of the poet
- Pritam also wrote in autobiographical style of art bringing the readers closer to her inner life.
- Her famous works include Raseedi Ticket was about her relationship with Sahir Ludhianvi
- She was a rebel and a fearless writer
I spoke to Dr Kulbhusan Thukral, 79, who was also born in Pakistan, and he remembers her vividly. “As a student, when I was studying revolutionary writers, her name was always prominent,” says Thukral, who has penned a book on PremChand’s narrative on social issues. Thukral was among those who migrated over a train from Pakistan to India and so he finds a connection with her writings on Partition. “She questioned the behaviour of society, she rebelled the need for traditional relationships between man and woman and she was hence iconic for many of us who were part of the partition but also fiercely interested in the writings of those times.”
A lot of Pritam’s work comes from her understanding and relationship with the event of Partition and one of her most famous poems ‘Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu,’ or ‘I invoke Waris Shah today’ is also based on the subject. The poem delves into a visual representation of what Pritam, then 28, witnessed of the tragedy that prevailed while travelling on a dark night from Dehradun to Delhi in search of work. Later Khushwant Singh became the first one to translate the poem.
She put women at the centre of her work. She probably realised her gendered lens to stories brings out a new sense of raw reality. “There are many stories which are not written on paper, they are written in the bodies and minds of women,” she said so very appropriately. Pritam wrote for those who were forgotten. The history through women. Situations through women.
Rest in peace Amrita Pritam while we rebel as the young and restless on your behalf. Thanks for igniting that fire in us.