When I was growing up, poems were windows to a world I could only live inside my head. I started writing them after my mother passed away and because they often turned out to be too sad for public reading, I decided to put them away in a locked diary. 

But every now and then, a Gulzar couplet, a John Milton poetry and an Amrita Pritam translation would enthral me.

Life of poets is never easy – the words they write are often smeared in blood and pain. In fact they often write to ease something inside. 

For example, Amrita Pritam lived her life without hiding her scars from the world. And she paid dearly for it – her world was judged and dissected by many. But in this process she created art that became her legacy. That strong and out there narrative that she crafted through her words, without any apologetic restrain.

It is Amrita Pritam’s 100th birth anniversary today. I saw many articles on my timeline, celebrating her life and it made me wonder, in this age of Wikipedia and easy googling – how many remember her purely from memories they collected through the years of reading her. Those stray op-eds we read in libraries, translated works and sometimes a drawing room conversation lasting hours about her.

So, I decided to do something that I have never done before.

Five things I remember about Amrita Pritam without Googling them.

1 Amrita Pritam was so much in love with Sahir Ludhianvi that there had been instances that after Sahir would leave the room, she would pick by cigarette stubs left behind and smoke them. 

2 Khushwant Singh once said to Amrita Pritam “your life is so insignificant, it could be written behind a revenue stamp”. Amrita Pritam called her Autobiography “The Rasidi Ticket” (a revenue stamp). The sheer bad-assery of this never goes out of my head.

Amrita Pritam

3 While Amrita Pritam loved Sahir Ludhianvi and that never had a fairytale ending, she went on to be in a relationship with famous artist and writer “Imroz”. Imroz was completely smitten by her. It is said when she used to attend Rajya Sabha proceedings, he would wait in the canteen for her – he didn’t want to be away from her even for a second.

4 Amrita Pritam wrote Pinjar – which went onto be adapted as a movie too. The narrative which is based on India-Pakistan partition, serves us a heartbreaking but a very realistic picture of women trapped in the tragedy. 

5 Last and never the least – my favourite poem of Amrita Pritam (of all time) is Kunwari. I have lost count the number of times I must have read it and I thought to share it for you here:

Virgin (Translated from “Kunwari”)

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 fulfill 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 odors 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.
Oh, God!
Was the bridal chamber so dark that I could not tell
the one I had slain
from the one I did, in fact, kill?

(The poem has been taken from here. I did remember most of it from memory but didn’t want to take a chance and hence only bit lifted from internet : FULL DISCLOSURE)

Tell me, are you an Amrita Pritam fan? If yes, then tell me something about her (or her work) that you love. And if not, then please do say I made you curious enough to find out more about her writings and her life?