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Copyright © 2004
M. S. Thirumalai
THE BLACK ROSE
Vijay Kumar Sunwani, Ph.D.
A Word of Thanks and Acknowledgment
I begin this paper with an introduction to Punjab, including its language and literature, and Amrita Pritam's place in it. I review some of her writings, her life, the various awards she won, and the many languages she has been translated into. I conclude with the literary virtuosity she has shown by encapsulating the lives and loves of simple ordinary people, and yet keeping aloft the life style of the Punjab: vigorous, rich, enthusiastic and full of valour.
Amrita did not belong only to Punjab, she was for the whole of India.
I gratefully acknowledge the help of my colleagues in shaping this paper: Mrs. Shatarupa Palit, Senior Lecturer in English, ever my first critic, for her critical insight and suggestions besides my slips she underscored. To Dr. Anoop Kumar, Reader in Hindi, for his understanding of Amrita Pritam and discussion on some points.
Punjabi language and literature has its own rhythm of vigour like its folk dances and way of life. Punjabi belongs to the Indo Aryan family and is the official language of the state of Punjab. It emerged as an independent language in the 11th century from the Sauraseni Apabhramsa. Punjabi literature was a natural successor to Vedic and Perso-Arabic literatures and Apbhramsa literature that contained dramas, stories and narrative poems. The golden period of Punjabi literature extends from the birth of Guru Nanak 1466 AD to the passing away of Guru Gobind Singh 1707 AD. Much of the religious and mystic poetry of this period is preserved in the Adi Granth, an anthology of Bhakti poems, which is considered a sacred scripture by the Sikhs. Much of its poetry is arranged in different ragas and is meant for singing.
Punjab was the site of the Indus Valley Civilization. Archaeological excavations have revealed ruins of Harappa and Mohenjodaro, now in Pakistan. It is believed that parts of The Ramayana were written near Amritsar and that it was in the forests of Punjab that Luv and Kush, sons of Lord Ram, grew up. It is also believed that the Rig Veda was composed in Punjab.
Phulkari is its most famous example of handicraft - a shawl that is completely covered in rich silk embroidery with folk motifs in jewel tones on an ochre background.
Punjab's many dance forms include bhangara, gidda, jhumar, luddi, dankara, sammi, jaago , kikli, gatka, etc.
Lohri, Baisakhi and Maaghi di mela are the most significant among Punjabi festivals.
The Voice of Punjab
Renowned poet, novelist and short-story writer, Amrita Pritam, 86, died at New Delhi on Monday 31 October 2005 at her Hauz Khas residence after a prolonged illness. She won the country's highest literature award - the Jnanpith award in 1981. She was the first woman to receive the Sahitya Akademi award for Punjabi. She was the first Punjabi woman to be awarded a Padma Shri in 1969. In 2004 she received the Padma Vibushan. This Punjabi writer and poet was also a Rajya Sabha member.
Born in the western part of Punjab, presently in Pakistan, in 1919 to a Sikh family, Amrita started her writing career at the age of 16. Her first collection of Punjabi poems was published in 1935. In 1947, at the time of the Partition, she moved to New Delhi, which she made her second home. She began to write in Hindi as opposed to Punjabi, her mother tongue. She worked until 1961 for All India Radio. She divorced her husband Pritam Singh in 1960 and dedicated her later part of life to writing.
Amrita Pritam's institutional influence on Punjabi literature has been laudable. She is a household name in Punjab, being its most prominent woman Punjabi poet and fiction writer. She received three D Litt. Degrees. In spite of her poor health, she was active till the end, writing and editing a monthly magazine in Punjabi, Nagmani. President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam honoured her with Padma awards for her contribution to literature. She was not present at the ceremony.
Amrita Pritam, has been variously described as the goddess of defiance, a rebel and a recalcitrant - and even a revolutionary. She was one who lived her life with intensity, Amrita Pritam was born in Gujranwala on Aug 31, 1919.
For about half a century, Punjabi literature was predominantly under the influence of the Progressive Movement. Her first collection of writings was published when she was 16, and she married the same year an editor to whom she was engaged in early childhood. She started writing primarily in Hindi, before switching to her native Punjabi. Be it 'Amrit Lehan', 'Kagaz Te Kanvas'(1970, for which she was awarded the Jnanpith award), 'Sunehray'(1950, brought her the Sahitya Academy award), 'Kal Chetna', 'Agyat Ka Nimantran' and in other works, Amrita Pritam never failed to provoke readers with her rebellious thoughts.
The Girl from Gujranwala
A few months after being uprooted by the Partition, she wrote her immortal poem addressed to the Sufi poet Waris Shah, who had penned the tragic love story of the Punjabi folk lass, Heer.
Amrita's poem, transcending geographical and communal boundaries, captured the pain of the Partition:
I call out to Waris Shah today
To speak out from the graves
And open afresh a new page
From the book of love
A daughter of Punjab
Had wept once
And he wrote a million dirges
Today a million daughters weep
And look up to you Waris Shah
So please do speak ...
After this poem Amrita became dear to the heart of the Punjabis on both sides of the border. Over the years, her fame spread worldwide. Everyone looked at this rising star on the horizon of Punjabi literature. Besides poetry, she wrote fiction, biography, personal prose and travelogues. She authored many books in a career spanning seven decades.
The Revenue Stamp
In contemporary Punjabi literature, Amrita Pritam is an indisputable phenomenon who has virtually no parallel. Her autobiography Rashidi Tickat, "The Revenue Stamp," first published in Punjabi in 1976, is an honest chronicle written with warmth and truthfulness. It may be compared to Dom Moraes' My Son's Father, which Stephen Spender described as a minor classic. But, for literary critic Suresh Kohli, Rashidi Tickat was nothing more than just a "half-baked onion," for "it had none of the things you wanted to know about her life, her relationship with Sahir Ludhianvi and then, with Imroz. She was known as a ravishing beauty in Lahore. Yet, in Rashidi Tickat there was little to no account of her early years."
Unfortunately, this too is not bereft of controversy. At one time its fate was about to be hermetically sealed. Later, it appeared in both the Hindi and English versions. Retrospectively, when Amrita Pritam, in the course of a conversation with Khushwant Singh, disclosed her plans to write an autobiography, the latter unwittingly remarked: "What is there to your life? Just an incident or two ... you could use the back of a revenue stamp to write it."
In a brief prologue to "The Revenue Stamp," Amrita Pritam shot back, "Whatever happened in my life happened between the layers of thought that found their way into novels and poems. What was left? Still, I thought I might write a few lines -- something to complete the account book of my life and at the end, seal it with this revenue stamp as it were. Or am I with this revenue stamp setting a seal to my novels and poems ... my entire, literary work ... I wonder."
Shadows of Words
Shadows of Words is another autobiography of Amrita Pritam. Not only does it capture her entire lifespan in its fold, but also its warp and woof entails an entirely novel depiction on a spiritual plane. Given her innate belief that since childhood all the chapters and experiences of her life have been created and lived under some shadow or another - death casts its shadows right at the time of her birth. Thereafter fall the shadows of weapons, words, dreams, shadows of authoritarian power and shadows of contemplation. These reflections affect her intense desire to present to the readers an incisive insight into her new inner world. Viewed from various angles, it happens to be a distinctly adventurous autobiography, which like a serialized photographic frame keeps enhancing those images.
According to Amardeep Singh, her most influential story is Pinjar ("Skeleton"), a dark narrative of the cross-religious abductions of women that took place in the Partition. The protagonist, Pooro, is a Hindu woman who is abducted and forcibly married into a Muslim family. Importantly, in Pritam's novel Pooro doesn't simply become yet another female victim of religious violence. Though she remains scarred, Pooro (renamed Hamida) comes to accept her new identity, and prosper in a provisional, post-traumatic sort of way. She becomes an agent on behalf of other women whose lives are jeopardized, which is almost a happy ending. It's a powerful basis for a narrative. But maybe the story doesn't carry us all the way. Amrita Pritam's story is somewhere between a realist (ethnographic and historical) account of a particularly nasty aspect of women's experiences of the partition, on the one hand, and a more internal psychological portrait where realism is only a secondary goal, on the other.
Here's the opening of the novel:
The sky was a colourless grey. Pooro sat on her haunches with a sack spread beneath her feet. She was shelling peas. She pressed open a pod and pushed out the row of peas with her finger. A slimy little slug stuck to her thumb. She felt as if she had stepped into a cesspool; she ground her teeth, flicked off the slug and rubbed her hand between her knees.
Pooro stared at the three heaps in front of her: the empty husks, the pods, and the peas she had shelled. She put her hand on her heart and stared off into space. She felt as if her body was a pea-pod inside which she carried a slimy white caterpillar.
Again, it feels more like a psychological than a realistic portrait, and as such it somehow falls a little flat.
Pinjar, the film
Pinjar portrays the agony of communal riots, abduction, trauma and symbolic reunion of victims and victimizers in the prophetic hope of communal amity. The novel was recently made into a Hindi film by director Chandra Prakash Dwivedi. The French translation of the novel received the La Route des Indes Literary Prize in France. Bapsi Sidhwa's Cracking India and Pritam's Pinjar are novels where women's agency is a connecting theme. It would be interesting to see how Partition and its effects have been shown in literature, but in cinema as well.
It was interesting that the ending from the novel remained intact in the film. This was one of its high points. In fact, more than anything else, the film's ending was more resonant than the novel's. The novel was rather stark and austere, but also beautiful, once you get used to the resigned tone of voice.
The film begins in 1946 (the novel in 1938, perhaps) and ends in 1948. Pooro is no longer fourteen. The compressed time-period means that Pooro and Rashid don't have a son (she suffers a miscarriage in the movie and another child, whom she adopts is taken away from her because she is a muslim). In the novel, however, she has a son and the adopted boy is returned to her too. Thus, in the novel, when she decides to stay back with Rashid, she has two children. In the film, she has none. By subtly changing the incidents in the novel, the film gives greater moral weight to Pooro's final choice.
Is Pinjar a Novel on the Partition?
Critics have questioned whether Pinjar can really be considered to be a "partition" novel. Director Dwivedi considers it to be definitely so. Not because partition enters into it but because its setting is between 1935 and 1948. Amrita Pritam might as well be talking about the thousands of women who suffer in times of war; who are raped, tortured, killed, abducted or left to die. Some of her other novels have also been captured on celluloid. Their film versions are a moving tribute to the director as well as the author. The film version of Pinjar was good though a lot of extra was put in to make it more of a colourful bollywood melodrama. It could have also been a quiet little art film with lots of shadows and silence.
The Partition of India and the Indian Literature
The Partition of India has been the theme of many a novel or a poem, of many writings. To name a few, Khushwant Singh's I Shall Not Hear the Nightingale, or Train to Pakistan, Mano Majra; Manohar Malgonkar's A Bend in the Ganges. One needn't be reminded of names such as Jallianwala Bagh, Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai and General Reginald Dwyer. The Partition made Punjabi writers more self conscious of their social responsibilities.
Perhaps no other state in India felt the sorrows and vicissitudes of Partition than did Punjab. It was a great bloodbath, on both sides, the biggest migration the world has ever known hitherto. In this land of Heer and Ranjha, Sohni Mahiwal and others fallen by the way, Amrita Pritam addressed Waris Shah the legendary poet of Punjabi romantic immortals. Undoubtedly this poem carries the complete load of the people of Punjab and those now of Pakistan with such emotion and longing for the dead and separated that soaked the eyes of its readers on both sides. No compensation of any kind could stem the flood of tears.
Amrita was overwhelmed by the suppression of women, largely because of their economic dependence on the male members of the family. The woman had become just an object, an artifact. Through her deft and deeply felt handling of delicate subjects specially of the consciousness of women she captured the hearts of her readers and placed Punjabi literature on India's national scene. Not only was she fluent in her own mother tongue but she was at equal ease in Hindi insomuch that people had no hesitation in acknowledging her as a leading light of Hindi.
Her poem "Main twarikh han Hind di" (Me, the history of India) almost sums up her literary output. Some of her books are Kagaz Te Canvas, Jai Shri, Doctor Dev, Pinjar, Alhna (nest), Yaatri (traveller), Tehrvan Suraj (the 13th sun), Panj Warhe Lambi Sarak, and Tisri Aurat.
Waris Shah Nu
A household name in Punjab, though Amrita Pritam migrated to India, the memories and sufferings she had then esperienced always disturbed her. She was deeply troubled by the 2002 Gujarat riots. She wondered in a newspaper interview: 'why do we humans fight? Can't we learn something from the flowers? They are all so beautiful but never become jealous of each other.'
One of the most beautifully weird poems ever written by Amrita was the New Heer or Aankhaan Waris Shah Nu ... that was addressed "to the author of the Punjabi romantic epic of immortal love". 'Ode to Waris Shah', captured the riots and mayhem of partition. Acquaintances say she authored it while travelling on a train from Gujranwala to Delhi in 1947. The poem was a call to the legendary Waris Shah (1722-1798) with whom Pritam shares the Gujranwala birthplace.
'Today, I call Waris Shah, 'Speak from inside your grave'. And turn, today, the book of love's next affectionate page
Once, one daughter of Punjab cried; you wrote a wailing saga. Today a million daughters cry to you, Waris Shah
Rise! O' narrator of the grieving; rise! Look at your Punjab today, fields are lined with corpses, and blood fills the Chenab
Someone has mixed poison in the five rivers' flow. Their deadly water is now irrigating our lands galore.'
It could also apply to some things that have nothing to do with Waris Shah. Linking "Heer", a tragic love story to the senseless violence of Partition was quite something in terms of intertextuality.
The Feminist Turn
After her divorce in 1960, Amrita's work turned explicitly feminist, and she drew on her unhappy marriage in many of her stories and poems.
'There was a grief I smoked in silence, like a cigarette
Only a few poems fell out of the ash I flicked from it.'
Amrita Pritam was elected a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi as one of the 21 immortals of literature. A recipient of the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Shri, the country's second and fourth highest civilian honours, she was conferred honorary doctorate in literature by Delhi, Jabalpur (my own alma mater) and Vishva Bharti Universities. In 1966, Amrita Pritam started the monthly Punjabi journal Nagmani. Many emerging Punjabi writers had their works published in this journal, which closed down in 2003 after 36 years.
Perhaps Amrita Pritam is stronger as a poet?
Here are some lines from "The Scar":
I am also of human kind
I am the sign of that injury,
The symbol of that accident,
Which, in the clash of changing times,
Inevitably hit my mother's forehead.
I am the curse
That lies upon man today.
I came into being
When the stars were falling
When the sun had been quenched
And the moon darkened.
Who can guess
How difficult it is
To nurse barbarity in one's belly
To consume the body and burn the bones?
I am the fruit of that season
When the berries of Independence came into blossom
Jalte Bujhte Log - None Lives Abroad!
Jalte Bujhte Log (2005) is Amrita Pritam's swan song and contains three novelletes, written earlier: Jalaawatan, Jebkatre, and Kacchi sadak.
Derived from the original Arabic, the word Jalaawatan basically means a person who after having left his own land is an alien in a distant land. However, even a cursory reading of the novel shows that there is no such person who is really living abroad. What Amrita Pritam has shown is that the characters' heart may become an alien, because the experiences one gathers from this alien land are so different that they touch the reader from all sides, and as it were, literally scourge, singe them. From this assemblage of varied experiences we look forward to a life of simplicity.
There are two statues in the room: of a man and of a woman. Both were beautiful and handsome, the only difference being that while the male statue was made of white silken earth, that of the woman was of the colour of earth itself, the natural colour of human beings.
The Present Should Be Alive, But It is Lost Somewhere!
Amrita Pritam has shown the intense deep feelings of modern men and women. The present should be alive, but, she feels it has been lost somewhere. Perhaps the present has become a ravine, a black hole which swallows us all, individually and collectively. The event horizon. She has tried to bring in this aspect of the present before us. This is conveyed through social relationships, or intimate personal relationships. In today's world the most sought after are the rat race for career, behaviour and success. But what are they really?
What is success, Amrita asks. Perhaps only a sleight of hand. The faster one is at learning this technique, the greater success he / she becomes.
Similarly, to Amrita, behaviour and career are nothing else but achieving expertise in filching money from the other person's pocket, purse, wallet or handbag. Those who are able to do this to the maximum are recognized as the most successful.
Thus through Jalaawatan, Amrita Pritam has shown the pain and suffering of the modern human psyche in all its turbulence: to live and not to leave, whatever the cost.
The Loneliness and Individuality
In a similar manner Jebkatre highlights the loneliness and individuality of the modern human being in this uncaring, senseless world. The protagonist is a student of engineering. Away from home he goes to his uncle's house who lives in a government accommodation meant for defence officials. To do away with his inner loneliness he goes to his friend Ruby. Ruby's father has a splendid, lonely house atop a mountain. Later, two of his hostel friends also join him here. The solitude, cold and loneliness in the eerie nights give them the shivers, yet they continue living in the haveli. The argument is that modern human beings want to laze in their own loneliness and yet they become afraid of it themselves Loneliness seems to be all powerful, an opinion that Amrita has expressed through the character of Vinod. Powerful, and to be more and more so, has been the desire of a human being generations after generations.
It is the driving force for an individual, for a family, and on a continuing basis, with the built-in limitation of becoming a psychopath. Hasn't T. S. Eliot distinguished between temporal and permanent, spiritual power, opting for the latter?
Having slaved all our energies to become a useful citizen for the society, in a moment of despair and realization we try to find our own selves, our own moorings, in our own psyche. And yet dissatisfaction persists in vague, hollow, inane words such as 'shut up', 'sit down', told to the pet dog. In spite of our best efforts to keep the dog muzzled, it continues its barking, much in the same manner that man's creativity has been sheltered in his pocket. He cannot part with it, cannot give it, cannot exhibit it, and it seems some day, some time, someone will pick his pocket and rob him of this creativity. Soon this will happen, without your being aware of it, surreptitiously.
Can There Be Frienship Between Man and Woman?
Kacchi sadak is a simpler story as compared to the other novelettes in this volume. Meena is a young girl who, because of some misunderstandings accepts someone to be her father. Who she really thought to be her father, in reality turns out to be a smuggler, which is revealed only at the end of the story. She comes out of his clutches, only to be arrested in a massive diamond smuggling case. The novel underlines the fact that if certain assumptions take root in your impressionistic years, they can urge a person along the wrong path.
Another important pertinent issue raised by the novel is Can there be no friendship between a man and a woman? While Meena's assumed father turned out to be a smuggler, her 'real' father Deshraj also turns out to be none other than her mother's friend and because of being a suspect in a number of things he had turned hisback on Meena's mother and her whole family.
Life is strange, Amrita Pritam seems to suggest, with things turning up from anywhere, from most unexpected quarters, anytime and disturb your equilibrium in all senses of the term.
Translating Amrita Pritam for the World
After the legendary poet Sitakanta Mohapatra, it is Amrita Pritam's works which have been translated in English, Albanian, Bulgarian, French, Polish, Russian, Spanish and all the 21 Indian languages. Amrita Pritam has been read widely: nationally and internationally. Very few writers have earned this distinction.
The nuances of Punjabi and Hindi, so eminently and intuitively exploited by Amrita will continue to be a challenge for the translators.
Equally astounding is her rich literary corpus - she had published 75 books - of which there are 28 novels, 18 volumes of verse, five short stories, and 16 miscellaneous prose. Besides, she also edited the Punjabi literary journal Nagmani. For two of her novels, Dharti Sagar te Sippiyan (1965) and Unah Di Kahani (1976) that have been made into films entitled "Kadambari" and "Daaku," she even composed songs.
Veteris Vestegia Flammae : Sahir, the Love of Amrita's Life?
A bachelor to the end, Sahir Ludhianvi fell in love with writer Amrita Pritam and singer Sudha Malhotra, relationships that never fructified in the conventional sense and left him sad. Ironically, the two ladies' fathers wouldn't accept Sahir, an atheist, because of his perceived religion. Had they seen the iconoclast in him, that would have been worse; being an atheist was worse than belonging to the 'other' religion. Sahir, perhaps, had an answer to such artificial barriers in these lines written for Naya Raasta (1970):
Nafraton ke jahan mein humko pyaar ki bastiyaan basaani hain
Door rehna koi kamaal nahin, paas aao to koi baat bane
(In this world, full of hatred, we have to build a colony of love,
Staying afar is no great achievement, come close so that we can achieve our purpose.)
A path-breaking writer in her language, Amrita chose to live life on her own terms. Locked in a loveless marriage to a businessman at the age of 16, she fell in love with the poetry of Sahir Ludhianvi and nurtured an infatuation for many years. She wrote his name hundreds of times on a sheet of paper while addressing a press conference. They would meet without exchanging a word, Sahir would puff away. After Sahir's departure, Amrita would smoke the cigarette butts left behind by him. After his death, Amrita said she hoped the air mixed with the smoke of the butts would travel to the other world and meet Sahir! Such was their obsession and intensity. A Maude Gonne bye Yeats!
Aur mujhe lagta hai -
Ki shamshan ki aag, aag ka apmaan hai
Kisi Sohni, Sassi ya Heer mein -
Jo aag jalti thi
Mujhe us aag ki pehchaan hai
( I feel that the fire of the cremation ghat is an insult to the flame. I recognize the "flame" that burnt in the hearts of any Sohni, Sassi or Heer.)
The Truth - Her Life was an Open Book
The greatest aspect of Pritam's life was the way she embraced truth. She gave a new meaning to the expression "my life is an open book." Whatever she experienced, she recorded in her poems and novels - her legendary love for Sahir Ludhianvi, the famous Urdu poet, included. So many of her anecdotes revolved around her love for this man. Like the time her son came to her and said, "People say that I am Sahir Uncle's son." Imagine the inner courage and conviction of a woman who could reply, " I wish you were Sahir Uncle's son."
The Confidante - Imroz
However, it was with artist Imroz that she chose to make a home in Delhi. It was a relationship of rare understanding, and the companionship lasted over four decades. So, with the black rose in hand Neeru found herself at the gate of K-25, Hauz Khas, an address that was for long the Mecca for Punjabi writers. For 33 years, Amrita and Imroz ran a remarkable and very popular literary journal Nagmani.
Once Neeru had gone to her with a bunch of orange poppies. Happy to see her, she asked to be pushed up to sit, and lit up a cigarette. With a mischievous smile, Amrita asked, "So Neeru! Any new love affair?" Imroz, who walked in with the tea, said, "Of course! She must be in love. The bright colour of the flowers is telling the story."
Once Dwivedi dropped by at Amrita's home and found her laughing with gay abandon. The reason for her mirth was a visit from a journalist who said she wanted to talk about the love in Amrita Pritam's life. Do you know what Pritam told her? She said, "I've had many loves in my life, which one do you want to talk about?" Imagine the scribe's audacity that she could dare declare she meant the "Muslim one." And all Amrita Pritam said in reply was, "Why don't you first find out the name of the 'Muslim one' and then I'd be too happy to talk about my love for him." She never shied away from telling the truth.
Amrita's relationship with Imroz was fascinating. A man, so much younger than her, with whom she lived in the heart of middle-class Delhi and her children lived in the same apartment complex but a floor below hers.
Yeh mein hoon - yeh tu hai, aur beech mein hai sapna
(This is me and that is you and in the chasm is the dream.)
Amrita has had many more detractors than her admirers. She came in for sharp criticism , specially for her relationship with Sahir. Imroz was a different matter, who followed her as a shadow, a confidante, a dedicated friend, a candid critic.
The Humble Amrita
From the author of the millennium award to every title India could felicitate her with, she had trophies by the dozen but you would never see any of them on display at her home. What she did keep close to her were paintings by the other great love in her life, Imroz, her partner, as humble as Amrita herself. Amrita Pritam was humility personified.
Awards & Honours:
· Sahitya Akademi Award (1956)
· Padmashri (1969)
· Delhi University confers its D. Litt. (1973)
· Jabalpur University confers its D. Litt. (1973)
· International Vaptsarove Award by the Republic of Bulgaria (1979)
· Bharatiya Jnanpith (1981)
· Nominated to Rajya Sabha 1986-92
· Vishwa Bharati, Shantiniketan, confers its D. Litt.(1987)
· Degree of Officer dens/order des arts et des letters by the French Government (1987).
· Shatabdi Samman -- Millennium poet (2000)
Some Important Works:
· Amrit Lehran (1936)---poems
· Jinnda Jian (1939)---poems
· Trel Dhote Phul (1942)---poems
· O Gitan Valia (1942---poems
· Badlam De Laali (1943)---poems
· Lok Pigr (1944)---poems
· Pagthar Giite (1946)---poemsv
· Punjabi Di Aawaaz (1952)---poems
· Sunehray (1955)---poems
· Ashoka Cheti (1957)---poems
· Kasturi (1957)---poems
· Nagmani (1964)---poems
· Ik Si Anita(1964)---poems
· Chak Nambar Chatti (1964)---poems
· Jilavatan (1968)---novel
· Rasidi Ticket (1976)---autobiography
· Uninja Din (1979)---poems
· Kagaz Te Kanvas (1981)---Bharatiya Jnanpith Award
The smile of the pir called Amrita is still with us like a blessing. People like Amrita are never gone. They live on in their writings. Here is a poem in which she says that she will always be present in any free soul anywhere:
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 the foaming
drops of water on your body
and rest my coolness on
your burning chest
I know nothing else
but that this life
will walk along with me
When the body perishes
but the threads of memory
are woven with enduring specs
I will pick these particles
weave the threads
and I will meet you yet again
In the passing away of Amrita Pritam an era has ended. It is not that literature has lost a great person, it is a matter of regret for all of literature, for the peoples of India, whose id she represented.
Kabhi kabhi maut bhi
Jab ek kitab likhti hai
To zindagi se -
Ek bhumika likhwane ke liye aati hai
(Sometimes when death starts writing a book, it beckons life to compose the preface.)
Punjab is a land of gidda, makke ki roti and sarson ka sag: strong its men, brave its women. The Sikh with the five K's is a very unique personality and wherever you find them they have done our country much proud. The Bhakra Nangal dam, the Rock Garden, Jallianwala Bagh, hosiery of Ludhiana where also every house has a small industry, stand as symbols of valour and hard work in today's time. Have you ever seen a Punjabi beggar? The devotion shown by the Sikhs at the Golden Temple, where no one is denied entry has to be seen to be believed, and where kar sevaks work with total repentance, submission, loyalty, faith and devotion, though you know they are miles richer (in all senses) than you. I saw this at Bangla Sahib in New Delhi.
The Punjab, among others, has similarly kept proudly aflutter the Indian tricolour. It recently lost a great son in Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Aurora who brought Gen. A. A Niazi on his knees in the small town of Hili near Balurghat in Bengal. Add to this list KPS Gill, Milkha Singh, Kiran Bedi, Kalpana Chawla, Kartar Singh Duggal, Kishen Singh Bedi, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Jaspal Bhatti, Balwant Gargi and you have a place of excellence: be it academics, literature, drama, defence, industry, or religion. Don't forget their raunchy, robust, infectious laughter. And the sher-e-Punjab dhabas. From this beautiful garden, a bouquet was created from which a black rose has fallen.
In a personal communication with me, Prativa Ray, the famed Oriya novelist said, one doesn't grow old; one only grows younger by the day.
Amrita was young at 86, her spirit soars in the young blood of the Punjab, nay, of India.
Amardeep Singh: Reflections and questions on Amrita Pritam. 2 Nov 2005. LeHigh University.
Amrita Pritam: Kaal Chetna. Kitab Ghar. New Delhi 1995.
Amrita Pritam: Jalte Bujhte Log. Rajpal. New Delhi. 2005.
Amrita Pritam - A Revolutionary till the end . Indo Asian News Service. October 31, 2005.
Ghosh, G.K.: Language, Literature and National Integration.. Ashish Publishing House. New Delhi. 1995.
Mahip Singh : Chup Hua Karun Gaan. India Today (Hindi) 16 Nov. 2005
Patnaik, Ashok: Amrita Pritam: the grande dame of Punjabi literature. Comeconnect.com.
Dwivedi, Chandra Prakash: An Open Book - an Obituary, as told to Sushmita Choudhury. India Today (English) 14 Nov. 2005.
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