By Amjad Parvez
Arts, Culture & Books : Jan 7, 2020
* In this backdrop, novelist and essayist Amrita Pritam also in the midst of communal rioting in August 1947, evoked the spirit of poet Waris Shah, the renowned Punjabi wordsmith
Late statesman and army officer Khizar Hyat Tiwana who headed the unionist government at the time of creation of Pakistan and opted to live in the West thereafter, passed away with his vision of Punjabi-speaking people “transcending limitations of the geographical map”, the Punjabi identity that came to be known as Punjabiat.
Amrita Preetum was a believer of this ideology. The ideology of Punjabiat continues to be reflected in Punjabi writing both in the West and East Punjab. In Punjab the protests in favour of demand of making Punjabi a compulsory subject till primary level is the least of the demands. Amrita believed that one language, two scripts, multiple religions and divided land was a dilemma faced by Punjabis after the partition of India. West Punjabis were the foremost losers of the script divide as almost all the Punjabi writers who migrated to East Punjab were well-versed in both scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi as Urdu and Farsi were compulsory subjects at primary level in public schools of the pre-partitioned Punjab. On the other hand majority of the Pakistani Punjabi writers could only read and write in Shahmukhi. When Nehru made Hindi script of Urdu language in India whereas Arabic script was retained for Urdu in Pakistan, great damage was done not only to communication among Indians and Pakistanis but also the sharing of literature got blocked from reaching masses on both sides of the borders. With the opening of Kartarpur border for Sikh Pilgrims by the present Pakistani government, one can hope that literati from both sides shall meet and pass on literature to each other and make arrangements for Indian side of Punjab’s writers literature translated in Shahmukhi.
Amrita Pritam gave reference to a full saga of Heer Ranjha that had enticed Waris Shah to pen a soliloquy and appealed to write on the atrocities carried out on womenfolk on both sides of the borders. This poem was rendered by singer and musician Inayat Hussain Bhatti and Zubeda Khanum filmed on the former and Musarrat Nazir for the film ‘Kartar Singh’ written by Saifuddin Saif that did colossal business on both sides of the border
In this backdrop, novelist and essayist Amrita Pritam also in the midst of communal rioting in August 1947, evoked the spirit of poet Waris Shah, the renowned Punjabi wordsmith, with her immortal poem “Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nun Kite Qabran Vichon Bol.” The dreadful atrocities against humanity shook the sensitive Punjabi poetess to her staple. Translation of the opening paragraph of this poem is as hereunder:
Today, I call Waris Shah, “Speak from your grave,”
And turn to the next page in your book of love,
Once, a daughter of Punjab cried and you wrote an entire saga,
Today, a million daughters cry out to you, Waris Shah,
Rise! O’ narrator of the grieving! Look at your Punjab,
Today, fields are lined with corpses, and blood fills the Chenab.
Amrita Preetum gave reference to a full saga of Heer Ranjha that had enticed Waris Shah to pen a soliloquy and appealed to write on the atrocities carried out on womenfolk on both sides of the borders. This poem was rendered by singer and musician Inayat Hussain Bhatti and Zubeda Khanum filmed on the former and Musarrat Nazir for the Pakistani film ‘Kartar Singh’ written by Saifuddin Saif that did colossal business on both sides of the border. According to Wikipedia, as a novelist, Amrita’s most noted work was Pinjar (“The Skeleton”, 1950), in which she created her memorable character, Puro, an epitome of violence against women, loss of humanity and ultimate surrender to existential fate; the novel was made into an award-winning film, Pinjar (2003).
About non-availability of scripts on either sides of Punjab, some efforts were made to reduce this gap. As per Wikipedia, Darshan Singh Awãra’s Baghavat (Rebellion), Mohan Singh’s Savey Pattar (Green Leaves), Amrita Pritam’s Navin Rutt (The New Season) and Ahmad Rahi’s Trinjan (The Joint) were the first few books to appear in both scripts and across borders.
In East Punjab systematic transcription of ‘Pakistani Punjabi Literature’ (PPL) started in the mid-1970s with the publication of?Dukh Daryaon Pr Dey? (‘With angst from across the river’: anthology of poems by 61 West Punjabi poets) edited by Attar Singh and Jagtar in 1975. A decade later Punjabi got another group of passionate workers in the shape of Jatinderpal Singh Jolly, Karnail Singh Thind, Prem Parkash and later Talwinder Singh joined the bandwagon. He transcribed Afzal Randhawa’s book of short fiction Rann, Talwãr te Ghorha (Woman, Sword and the Horse) which found a place in the university curriculum in East Punjab and Sufne Leero Leer (Shattered Dreams), poetic compositions of Pakistani poets.
Amrita Preetum’s father Kartar Singh Hitkari was a scholar and worked as editor of a literary journal and Amrita was born in Gujranwala on August 31, 1919 in a literary environment. Her mother was Raj Bibi, a school teacher. On the latter’s death Amrita after having moved to Lahore found refuge in writing as all what she made friends with was books in her father ‘s library. She started writing and her compendium of poems titled ‘Amrit Lehran’ (Immortal Waves) was published in 1936. She was just seventeen at that time. It was followed by six collections of poems till 1943. Her poetry books were Jiunda Jiwan (The Exuberant Life) (1939), Trel Dhote Phul (1942), O Gitan Valia (1942), Badlam De Laali (1943), Sanjh de laali (1943), Pathar Geetey (The Pebbles) (1946), Punjab Di Aawaaz (1952), Sunehade (Messages) (1955) – Sahitya Akademi Award, Ashoka Cheti (1957), Kasturi (1957), Nagmani (1964), Ik Si Anita (1964), Chak Nambar Chatti (1964), Uninja Din (49 Days) (1979), Kagaz Te Kanvas (1981)- Bhartiya Jnanpith, Chuni Huyee Kavitayen, Ik Baat Literary journal and Nagmani, poetry monthly.
It was but natural for her to get attracted to the ideology of Progressive Writers Movement. In this frame of mind she wrote ‘Lok Peer’ (People’s Anguish) on Bengal’s famine. This book was banned by the British Rulers. She joined Lahore’s Radio Station around the time when Pakistan came into being. Naturally she moved to India.
During her illustrious career, Amrita penned a total of 28 novels, 18 anthologies (prose), 16 miscellaneous volumes of prose, and five short stories. Many of her works continue to serve as an inspiration to many. Many of her works have been adapted into films. In 2007, eminent Indian lyricist Gulzar released an album, which was basically a collection of Amrita Pritam’s poetry recited by Gulzar.
Specimen of Amrita’s poetry:
By Niruupma Dutt in the ‘little magazine’
I will meet you yet again
How and where
I know not
Perhaps I will become a
figment of your imagination
and maybe spreading myself
in a mysterious line
on your canvas
I will keep gazing at you.
Perhaps I will become a ray
of sunshine to be
embraced by your colours
I will paint myself on your canvas
I know not how and where –
but I will meet you for sure.
Maybe I will turn into a spring
and rub foaming
drops of water on your body
and rest my coolness on
your burning chest
I know nothing
but that this life
will walk along with me.
When the body perishes
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms
I will pick these particles
weave the threads
and I will meet you yet again.
Vida – Women in literary Arts says “As much as Pritam was known for her political poetry, she was equally acclaimed for her feminist writing, open discussions of sexuality, and verse on themes of lost identities and lost homes.
In Pritam’s poetry, the quest for liberation and self-realization are actively tied to her identity as a woman and to her sexuality. For example, in “…Virgin,” Pritam explores the violence of sexual- and self-annihilation”.
When I entered your bridal chamber
I was not one but two persons.
One’s marriage had consummated and complete
the other had remained a chaste virgin.
To fulfil our union
I had to kill the virgin.
And kill her, I did.
Such murders are sanctioned by the law
Only the humiliation accompanying them is illegal.
So I drank the poison of humiliation.
Came the dawn and
I saw the dawn
and I saw the blood on my hands.
I washed them
Just as I washed off the odours on my body.
But when I saw myself in my mirror,
there she was before me;
The same one I thought I had
murdered during the night.
Was the bridal chamber so dark that I could not tell
the one I had slain
from the one I did, in fact, kill.
Wikipedia reports that Amrita was betrothed to Pritam Singh, the son of a wealthy businessman from Lahore. The wedding took place in 1935, when Amrita was still in her mid-teens. In her autobiographies, which were written years after her wedding, Amrita confessed that she did not have a healthy relationship with her husband and that her marriage was an unhappy experience. In 1944, she met Sahir Ludhianvi, a fellow poet, who later turned into a prominent film lyricist. Though she was already married to Pritam Singh, Amrita was strongly attracted to Sahir, the reminiscence of which she would later write down in her autobiography ‘Rasidi Ticket.’ She finally left her husband Pritam Singh in 1960, when her fascination for Sahir had reached its peak. However, Amrita always knew that it was almost impossible for her to establish a workable relationship with Sahir Ludhianvi. Amrita later found love through Imroz, a prominent artist and writer. Though the couple never officially married, they spent more than four decades together. Amrita became the inspiration for some of his paintings and he would design the front cover of all her books and novels. Their love life was immortalized through a book titled ‘Amrita Imroz: A Love Story.’
Amrita has been well recognized by the government and non-government organizations. Some of these awards are Punjab Rattan Award, Sahitya Akademi Award & Fellowship, and D. Litt. Honorary Degrees, International recognition from Bulgari and French governments and Padma Awards.
Such poets were against division of Punjab and Quaid-e-Azam had even offered Sikhs to join Pakistan at the time of Partition but for the British rulers who left Kashmir and Punjab issues unresolved.
The writer is the recipient of the prestigious Pride of Performance award. He can be reached at email@example.com