On the 18th death anniversary of noted poet Amrita Pritam on 31st October 2018, we take a look at her love affair with words.
Amrita Pritam ruled the world of Hindi
and Punjabi poetry in the 20th century.
Her words called out to people from various backgrounds: lovers, travellers,
women trapped in abusive marriages,
Partition refugees. With a literary repertoire of twenty eight novels,
fifteen prose anthologies, five short
stories, and sixteen miscellaneous prose
volumes, Amrita Pritam remains one of
the most haunting voices of the Indian
Her work such as Pinjar and Ajj Akhaan
Waris Shah nu (I ask Waris Shah Today)
shot her into literary fame. People came
to look towards her words not just for love, comfort, and solace, but for the hint of rebellion. The tragedies that she faced in her life—migrating from Pakistan as a Partition refugee, early death of her mother, and subsequent loneliness, divorce from her husband, the unrequited love she had for Sahir Ludhianvi, another famous Hindi poet—made Amrita’s words shine stark against the pantheon of vernacular literature.
Born in 1919 in Gujranwala in what is Pakistan’s Punjab today, Amrita Kaur was an only child of Raj Bibi, a school teacher and Kartar Singh Hitkari, a poet. She published her first set of poems entitled Amrit Lehran in 1936 at the age of sixteen. In the same year, she married Pritam Singh, an editor and childhood friend. She then changed her name from Amrita Kaur to Amrita Pritam.
After Independence and her subsequent
migration to India from Lahore, she got
involved in social activism and a part of the e Progressive Writers’ Movement, a
defiant collective of writers like Syed
Sajjad Zahir, Rashid Jahan, Ahmed Ali,
Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Hameed Akhtar, and
Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi. She helped in the
establishment of the first Janta Library in
Her early poems published between 1936
and 1945 were filled with romanticism, a
prose that spun wildfire through exotic
images. Later, her work became grittier as Partition changed her both as a poet and as a social activist. These poems clearly reflected the trauma Partition had had on her.
Amrita Pritam, Sahir Ludhianvi and
Imroz’s love affair is probably one of the
most famous love stories memorialised
in prose, poetry, drama and other art forms. A play called Yeh Kahani Nahi
was performed by Miranda House’s
Hindi Dramatic Society Anukriti on the
same. The play, based on Amrita’s life
and directed by Shilpi Marwaha, was
brilliantly executed by the students and
left the jam-packed audience moved. In
many ways, Amrita’s words and her life in her words thus live on around us. Thus, in many ways, it was her tryst with words and the sonorous lines that poured from her pen that gave her true immortality. In one of her poems, Amrita wrote with a hint of melancholy:
A little smoke floats up,
and my ‘me’ dies like an eighth-month
Will my ‘me’ one day be my contemporary?
Amrita Pritam passed away in her sleep on 31st October 2005, at the age of 86 in her residence in New Delhi, leaving a heartbroken lover in Imroz and an even more devastated audience. Unsurprisingly, her words refuse to die down and persist as our glorious contemporary truth.
Feature Image Credits: The Hindustan Times