When Google India celebrated Amrita Pritam’s hundredth birth anniversary on August 31, it once again reminded us of the gentle voice of the litterateur who lived and wrote on her own terms struggling against many odds of a society that considered a woman to be a second fiddle to man. To the generation of women in north India born in the fifties and sixties, Amrita Pritam’s voice was where they found the reflections of their own suppressed identity.
A loner in her motherless childhood, she soon found herself ruing the fact that her traditional father wanted her to be a ‘saintly’ poet like Meera, writing devotional literature. She was even slapped by her father when she wrote a small love poem for an imaginary boy ‘Rajan’. That did not stop her rebellious instinct rather it inspired her to explore various aspects of a woman’s life which was then considered just limited to household chores, bringing up children and serving her husband.
Her growing up years were the perfect example of how a person if restricted turns to the inner freedom that her mind allows. The flight of imagination takes a person far beyond shackles of real life. Amrita read a lot and formed her opinions during that time. It did not take much time for her to realise that it will be far more difficult for her to live life on her own terms than a man.
She was soon married off to a stranger she had never met. She couldn’t protest. It took her several years to finally assert herself and part ways with her husband. By that time, she had become a mother.
It’s an irony to know that younger generation of women in India today know Amrita Pritam more for her affair with famous lyricist and poet Sahir Ludhianvi and is not really aware of the literary legacy she has left behind. Her poetry and novels translated into many languages reflect a liberal, emotional and a thinking mind portraying a humanist approach to socio-political issues, feminism being an integral part of them.
She made no bones about describing her various relationships. That was the strength of her character. But as has become the trend today, that instead of appreciating the courage it takes to be crystal clear about the grey areas of an individual’s life, our society in general looks for ways to decry the relationships or make light of it; Amrita Pritam’s candidness about her sentimental attachment with Ludhianvi is often either glamourised or criticised. Her sentimentality in no way weakened her intellectual capabilities, rather strengthened them.
Is it so difficult to understand and appreciate that she nurtured some emotional bond, was hurt and crestfallen in those relationships but decided to get up and walk on with a maturer, stronger mind? In fact now, it has become necessary to remember her soft gentle but firm voice now more than ever, when we have brutal atrocities against women on one hand and the aggressive feminism on the other.
Rebellion does not need to be aggressive, it has to be genuine, firm and should take all the opposition in its stride and continue on its journey. Amrita Pritam’s works instill this feeling within. Many a times she faced a situation where she was alone, deeply hurt and did not know where to go. (Incidentally, she mentions something like this in her autobiography ‘The Revenue Stamp’). Nevertheless, despite many turmoils, her belief in herself remained unshaken.
Later in her life, she turned to be more spiritual. Not many artists or writers liked it or appreciated it. But that was her journey, her evolution. Today, when religion has become political and loud; when politics has become violent and ridden with lies; when sentimentality, emotionalism and romanticism are considered outdated; liberals are libtards and intellectuals are ‘urban naxals’, Amrita Pritam’s soft humanism, liberalism and feminism needs to be revisited. Quoting from her most popular work ‘Aj akhkhan Waris Shah Nu;
‘Jitthe vajdi si kook pyaar di, ve oh vanjhali gayi gawach Ranjhe de sab vir aj, bhul gaye usdi jach
Dharti te lahu vasiya, kabraan paian choan, Preet dian shahzadian, aj vichch mazaran roan
Aj sabbhe qaido ban gaye, husn ishq de chor Aj kitthon liaiye labh ke Waris Shah ik hor
Aj akhan Waris Shah nu ki tun kabran vichchon bol, Te aj kitab-e-ishq da koi agla varka phol.’
( All the flutes that played the melodies of love, have lost their tunes. The valorous brothers of Ranjha has forgotten that art.
Blood rained on the earth, and graves oozed it too. The amorous princesses today wail at the graveyards.
Everyone are prisoners have become thieves of beauty of love. Where can another Waris Shah be found today?
I summon Waris Shah today, speak from thy grave, and find the next page in the Book of Love.)