The Dawn: September 18, 2006

Amrita’s collected verse

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

KAAGHEZ TEY CANVAS by Amrita Pritam; pp528; price Rs350; published by Saanjh publications, Second Floor, Mufti Building, 17/31. Temple Road, Lahore.

In last month’s issue of the monthly Al-Hamra, Lahore, a scholar and teacher of literature Mr Khalid Mahmood gave a sweeping statement on Amrita Pritam’s poetry. In his view Amrita has only one poem to her credit which she wrote on the partition of Punjab in 1947, Aj aakhan Waris Shah noon. Khalid Mahmud teaches Urdu literature and perhaps he has assessed Amrita’s poetry by the standards he is more familiar with. Maybe he did not like the popularity Amrita had earned. There can be many other reasons. For instance, prominent Punjabi poet Saleem Kashir has long accused Amrita of having lifted the opening line of the poem from a poet of Wazirabad, and that runs like this:

Aj aakhan Naney pak noon kidhrey rozey vichon bol (this line refers to Imam Husain and the prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

There was another view according to which Amrita was a believing Sikh in the core of her heart and by referring to Waris Shah and the river Chenab she only proved that it was Muslims who killed and plundered non-Muslims. What she wanted to prove was that Sikhs and the Hindus were innocent victims.

Though none of these views and opinions are correct, one factor which helped from such views was that only one collection of Amrita’s poetry, Naveen Rut was published in the Punjabi script in Pakistan by Rauf Malik. Her biography, Raseedi ticket and many books of fiction were translated into Urdu and published here but not the rest of her poetry. In that respect Shiv Kumar Batalvi was lucky. His complete poetic works were published in Pakistan. The book under review was first published under Amrita’s signature in Gurmukhi in 1993 in Delhi.

Amrita published four or five collections of poetry since 1935. In 1970 she published a collection Kaaghez tey canvas. Before that she had had seen collections to her credit which she had included in this book. Only four poems were from Pathhar geetey while the rest were included in total. The total number of her poems is 126. Kaaghez tey canvas consisted of 73 poems and after that whatever she wrote was published in her magazine, Naagmani.

Out of these, 163 pieces have been included in this book. The total number of poems is 263. One may not be interested in this exercise, but for us Pakistanis who were not aware of Amrita’s views and style of poetry, it holds attraction.Though after partition Amrita lived in Delhi, she remained deeply rooted in the literary and cultural traditions of West Punjab. A piece from her poem, Allah:

(Allah! Who has come on this lucky day?

When I have been accused of committing love).

In another passage Ni maaey (o, mother) reminds you of Shah Husain and Bulleh Shah who want to share their agony with mother. Amrita also wants to share her sorrows with her mother and says:

(I saw my Khizar (prophet of seas and rivers) with my own eyes on the ferry (river crossing). But where have gone those places and where are those streams and rivers? I have lost my Khizar).

The book thus brings Amrita Pritam’s poetry in full view of Pakistanis by Saanjh, a new publication house.


HEER WARIS SHAH text and translation in Urdu prose by Akram Sheikh; pp624; price Rs600; published by Book Home, Book Street, 46. Mozong Road, Lahore.

No new research has been done on the text of Waris Shah’s Heer-Ranjha for last 40 years.The only attempt was made by Muhammad Sharif Sabir and his edited version of the Heer was published by the Waris Shah memorial committee, established by the former chief minister, the late Muhammad Hanif Ramay. Much before that Barrister Abdul Aziz had prepared a text which was published by the Punjabi Adabi Academy. But unfortunately a longer note on the research itself was not included in this version. This valuable research was lost by the academy people. Aziz’s son Dr K.K Aziz tried his best to find the work but he could not succeed. One version of the events is that this note remained with Prof Pritam Singh but even that needs yet to be verified.

Waris Shah’s Heer has been translated into English and Urdu. But the English translator did not mention which original version he had used. Most of the Urdu prose translations are made from those of Sheikh Aziz’s version. Prof Sharif Kunjahi had done it for the Academy of Letters; Prof Hameed Ullah Shah’s translation has been published by Maktab-i-Daniyal, Lahore; and now another well-produced translation in prose by Akram Sheikh who himself is a wellknown poet. This also is based on Sheikh Aziz’s text which has only 631 stanzas.

Book Home has so far published the text of the selected kafis of Bulleh Shah with their Urdu translations, Sultan Bahu’s Abiyat and Baba Farid’s Dohey with Urdu translations, and the book under review is the fourth in the series.

Research on the text and vocabulary done in East Punjab was not consulted by Sheikh Aziz. Sharif Sabir and Hameed Ullah Shah claim that they had consulted the text produced by Dr Mohan Singh and Jeet Singh Seetal, but some of the stanzas like the 372 and 485 need help from across the border. Waris Shah has still not been discovered wholly, and the doctorate thesis of Talib Bukhari remains a question unanswered.

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