The Dawn: May 27, 2006

Why Amrita never visited Lahore

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

DASTAK: special issue on Amrita Pritam edited by Afzaal Shahid; pp94; Price Rs100; Published by Dastak Publications, 134 Pak Block, Allama Iqbal Town, Lahore.

IT was not only Amrita Pritam who never wished to visit Lahore again, there were a number of prominent writers from Lahore who after migration never came back for a visit to the city of their dreams. These included Krishan Chandar, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Balwant Singh, Balwant Gargi, etc. According to Fakhar Zaman, Amirta wanted to visit Lahore but she could not owing to her illness. But according to the late Sajjad Haider, her colleague at the All-India Radio, Lahore, Amrita had refused to leave Lahore in 1947.

Her promise was that if she were forced by circumstances to leave Lahore, she would never visit this city again — and on this she made good. She was invited by the Majlis Shah Husaain in the early 1960s but she politely refused. About the other writers, Hameed Akhtar who has visited India many times, says that they had aspired to visit Lahore which had given them love and fame but could not make it.

Perhaps the only reason was that they feared they would not find the city in its pre-partition setup. That is why they never bothered to get visas and hop over for a walk down memory lane. Otherwise, there were many other writers across the borders who visited Lahore many times. These included Ali Sardar Jaffri, Majrooh Sultanpuri and Kaifi Azami, among others.

It was Lahore from where Amrita’s first collection of poetry was published. Lahore radio station provided her the opportunity to present sitar recitals and earn fame as an instrumentalist. Her picture was published on the title page of the programme magazine of the radio. The magazine under review includes that photograph also.

It was in Lahore that Amrita married Pritam Singh, son of a prospering businessman of Anarkali. She owned a baghi on which she used to go to the Lawrence Gardens. It was here where she developed her liking or love with Sahir Ludhianvi who had met her at a Preet Nagar literary function. It was in Lahore where she had given birth to her first child who, some people say, bears an uncanny resemblance with Sahir. After partition Sahir came to Lahore and Amrita went to India. Later on Sahir was also forced to leave Pakistan, never to return to Lahore.

Amrita’s married life was not a happy one. She never got any property allotted to her in Delhi or elsewhere as a compensation after partition. She started as a daily-wage script writer and a Punjabi newscaster at Delhi radio. She sought separation from Pritam Singh and lived all alone in that city. In the next forty years she had no home of her own and she was the happiest soul when she finally built her own house in Hauz-i-Khas, Delhi.

Pritam Singh had married another woman but the family had become very poor financially. In the last days of his life he fell seriously ill and perhaps had no resources to ease him out.

Amrtia came to his help. She took Pritam, his second wife and their children to her house. She did all his best to support the family but Pritam Singh could not survive. That is another unusual aspect of the woman called Amrita Pritam.

It has been repeated many times in many articles, including the version by her life-partner Imroz that she did not know the Urdu script, therefore, she could not read Urdu or Punjabi literature from Pakistan. If that is true then one wonders about claims made by many writers from Pakistan that she had read their books that they had sent to her, and she sent back her comments on those books.

This issue of Dastak carries many interviews with Amrita by Pakistani writers who visited India. It also includes an interview of Faiz Ahmad Faiz by Amrita herself which was telecast from Doordarshan in which Faiz admitted that he had fallen in love with a girl at the age of 18. She was married to a Dogra/Rajput Jagirdar. Faiz had her as Meem Pay in his introductory note to his poem included in a book, Iss Nazm Mein published in the early 1940s from Allahabad. Here Faiz admitted that it was very difficult to write even a single line matching those of Waris Shah’s.

Afzaal Shahid with the collaboration of the World Punjabi Congress has paid a rich tribute to Amrita, the injured soul of the Punjab.


CHAAR CHOFAIREY by Saeed Ulfat; pp128; Price Rs 150; Published by Akbar Academy, 3. Shimla Street, Shimla Paharri, Lahore.

D R Ulfat has dedicated his maiden collection of poetry to his father about whom he says:

Mera sajra piar praga peo dey suchal piar dey naan Watan prastan ankhan wali ohdi soach vichar dey naan.

(This first collection of poetry is dedicated to my father’s pure love and his nationalist thinking).

Dr Saeed Ulftat’s approach is of a reformist and he is very critical of social ills. He takes up the role of a preacher. In this respect, many of his poems can be quoted . Some of those are on kiteflying, Family Planning, Smoking, Roziyan Da Maheena, elections:

Thhan thhan hathh phelandey vaikhey votan waley Gali gali vich natthey phirdey notan waly waley.

Begging go contestants from door to door running alongside are those with bagsful of money). For Saeed the purpose of poetry is to reform society which has gone astray.— STM

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