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Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos!

Sept. 1, 2021, 6:32 p.m. by Karuwaki Speaks ( 678 views)

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"To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life"
-Pablo Neruda

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos! |Karuwaki speaks

Amrita Pritam is considered the first prominent female Punjabi poet, novelist, essayist and the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language, who is equally loved on both sides of the India–Pakistan border.

Born in Gujranwala, Pakistan on August 31st, she died in Delhi on 31st October 2005.

During the 1940s, she came to prominence as a political and feminist writer in India and finally internationally.

By the 1950s, like Simone de Beauvoir and Bretty Friedan in the West, Pritam was challenging patriarchal values at home, redefining gender roles and narratives assigned to women, and openly challenging heteronormative sexual politics. In doing so, she ushered in a new wave of feminist literature in mid-20th century India.

She was awarded the Jnanpith Award, Punjab Rattan, Sahitya Akademi Award for Punjabi Writers, Padma Vibhushan and many more. Though she wrote in Hindi and Punjabi, her works became so popular in the 1960s, they were translated into many languages including English, Danish, Japanese, French, and Mandarin.

Many films were inspired by her novels, the best known being 'Pinjar', which was released in 2003 and won the Filmfare Best Art Direction Award and National Film Award - Special Jury Award. Some others are the 1965 movie ‘Kadambari’ which was based on her book ‘Dharti Sagar te Sippiyan’ and Daaku (1976) was based on ‘Unah Di Kahani.

She had been betrothed to Pritam Singh in her childhood and married him in 1936, at the age of 16. However, her marriage wasn't a happy one and she left him in 1960.

In 1944, a budding poet Sahir Ludhianvi and poetess Amrita Pritam met for the first time, at a poetry reading session at Preet Nagar, a village between Lahore and Delhi. At the time, Amrita was already married to Pritam Singh.

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos! |Karuwaki speaks

Sahir Ludhianvi

When love strikes someone like lightning, so powerful and intense it can’t be denied. It’s beautiful and messy, cracking a chest open and spilling their soul out for the world to see.

Secret letters & meetings continued between the two who stayed in Lahore & Delhi respectively.

Her beauty and magic with words and his passion and idealism were the ingredients of this fascinating yet tragic romance.

Although the two met on several occasions, their romance unfolded only through letters, silences and words.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, "There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness".

Just like French existentialists Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, Sahir Ludhianvi and Amrita, both intense intellectuals fell in love.

In an interview with Hindi magazine Kadambini, Amrita told interviewer Dharmveer Bharti, “Sahir mere Sartre aur main unki Simone thi (Sahir was my Sartre and I was his Simone)”. They were each other’s muse just like the Victorian English poet Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning or the german philosopher Emmanuel Kant and his muse Eliza who was exceptionally beautiful.

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos! |Karuwaki speaks

To an entire generation of the subcontinent, in the 1960s and 1970s, their intense love for each other was known and often spoken about. Both passion and pain were the only ingredients in this tragic love story. Beneath the layers of unreciprocated feelings, fear of commitment and eventual separation lies the passionate love story of Punjabi poet Amrita Pritam, and Urdu poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi.

She wrote to Sahir, "Maine toot ke pyaar kiya tum se/Kya tumne bhi utna kiya mujh se? (I loved you wholeheartedly/ Did you also love me that much?)"

Muhabbaton ki parakh ka yahi toh rasta hai
Teri talaash mein nikloon, tujhe na paaoon main.

(The best criterion to judge the intensity of love is never to get the person who one loves).

Sahir was artistically temperamental, moody & many years younger than Amrita.

A biography titled Sahir: A Literary Portrait, written by Surinder Deol delves into the commitment phobia of Sahir. The author agrees with the very brief conclusion of Pakistani poet Ahmad Rahi, who had been a friend of Sahir over the years, about Sahir's life story in a nutshell, "In his entire life, Sahir loved once, and he nurtured one hate. He loved his mother, and he hated his father."

This Oedipus complex & obsession was a result of his mother who had brought him up single-handedly after she left her abusive husband.

However, if there was one woman he loved it was Amrita but he refused to commit to her.

Unhappy in a suffocating marriage, Amrita looked for freedom; freedom of soul, spirit and mind. During the early days of their romance she wrote to Sahir:

“Tumhare darakht ki tahani ka jo aasra mila/Mere toote hue dil ka parinda wahin ruk gaya (When I found the branch of your tree/ The bird of my broken heart perched there permanently)”.

Amrita was so passionately in love with Sahir, that she would sit in silence by his side during his poetry tellings, and smoke the leftover butts of his cigarettes when he left.

Amrita wrote of the habit of smoking in her autobiography:

"When I would hold one of these cigarettes between my fingers, I would feel as if I was touching his hands. This is how I took to smoking. Smoking gave me the feeling that he was close to me. He appeared, each time, like a genie in the smoke emanating from the cigarette."

Sahir's brief but hyped affair with Sudha Malhotra was the one most talked about as both belonged to the Hindi film industry. Sudha Malhotra, who graduated in Music from Agra University to pursue her career in Music, was an aspiring singer in Bombay.

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos! |Karuwaki speaks

Sudha Malhotra

Sahir would call her every morning to greet her and tell her that he had written a new ghazal, a new geet, a new nazm.

The story of 'Chalo ek baar fir se ajnabi ban jaaye hum dono' is a fascinating story that sheds more light on the relationship between one of Indian cinema's greatest poets and the talented singer. It is the story of Sahir and Sudha.

The 'love affair' between Sahir and Sudha Malhotra became the talk of the town. For their part, they neither denied nor affirmed the story.

In the book 'Sahir Ludhianvi', Akshay Motwani quotes Sudha Malhotra accepting that the poet sometimes showered a great deal of attention on her.

He had once recited the poem ‘Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai , ke jaise tujh ko banaya gaya hai mere liye,’ to her on the telephone.

This tumultuous affair however brought to an end another love story, that of Amrita & Sahir.

The sad part was that Amrita knew that she would probably end up loving Sahir without him for much longer than when she loved him when she knew him.

Some people might find that strange. But the truth of it is that the amount of love you feel for someone and the impact they have on you as a person is in no way relative to the amount of time you have known them.

While leaving Sahir’s place for the last time, Amrita quoted Byron (she seldom quoted English poets): “In her first love, a woman loves her lover/ In all the others, all she loves is love.” Sahir calmly asked her, “Aap jaane se pahle iska tarjuma kar dengi? (Before leaving, will you please translate it?)”.

Amrita Pritam’s dear friend, the late Fahmida Riyaz wrote a piece — Amrita ki Sahir se aakhri mulaaqaat: Amrita’s last meeting with Sahir) — in Pakistani Urdu daily Jung. Amrita told her that while parting, Sahir said poetically to her: Tum chali jaaogi, parchhaiyaan rah jaayengi/Kuchh na kuchh Ishq ki raanaaiyaan rah jaayengi very (Fahmida figuratively translated it: When you leave, your lovely silhouettes shall remain/ Memories and traces of love will smart-me time and again)

Ludhianvi, in his timeless nazm, wrote for Amrita, “Wo afsaana jise anjaam tak laana na ho mumkin, usey ik khoobsurat modh dekar chodna achha..”

In 1980, Amrita, after getting to know about Sahir’s death, said: ‘Ajj main apne dil de dariya vich, main apne phul pravaahe ne.(Today, in my heart, I have cremated myself too).”

Amrita finally found stability in Imroz who loved her unconditionally.

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos! |Karuwaki speaks

Born in 1926 in a village 100 kilometres from Lahore, Imroz met Amrita through an artist when she was looking for someone to design the cover of her book. “I had not seen her but read the book ‘Doctor Dev’ in which she had described what her man should be like. I was in love with her anyway, so I called her up (in 1957) and said, ‘I am your Doctor Dev speaking’ and put the phone down.” It was only 12 years later that when she was complaining of crank calls, including the one Imroz had made, that he told her he had made it.

Imroz lived in Amrita’s dreams much before he became a part of her life. She told the readers in her autobiography Raseedi Ticket that for nearly 20 years she saw the silhouette of a man in her dreams, a man who sat near a window with a paintbrush in his hand. Although she could not see the face of the man, this dream of her youth ceased to haunt her after she met Imroz.

In Imroz, Amrita found the man of her dreams and in Amrita, Imroz found his universe and his inspiration. She was the subject of all his paintings. The lobby of their house in Hauz Khas, Delhi, overflows with colours. From each and every colour emerges a face — that of Amrita, his muse and his eternal love.

In an interview with Indian Express, Imroz described his relationship with Amrita by saying while with Sahir, it was elusive, with him, it was real. He also said how he never bothered about her affection for Sahir as he was so sure of his love for her.

Amrita Pritam ... a dance of purposeful chaos!|Karuwaki speaks

Amrita wrote a poem ‘Shaam ka Phool’ (The evening flower) after her first meeting with Imroz, who was ten years younger than her.

He said “We made no promises, no commitments. There were no questions, no answers. But love flourished without any formal expressions.”

Conscious of their age difference, Amrita once told him that he should first go and “see the world out there” and then come back to her if he feels like it. “I took seven rounds around her and said I have seen and traversed the entire world and here I am — all for you.”

Together, they built their home in Hauz khas and lived in harmony, till her death in 2005.

Quoting Neruda again:

"I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you simply, without problems or pride".

Amrita was Imroz’s muse, his love, his religion, his society (“Tu meri samaj, aur main teri samaj, isse zyada aur koi samaj nahin“), in life as much as in death.

She used to write Sahir’s name on my back. Once someone asked me why I didn’t mind. I said, ‘Sahir was hers and my back too. Why would I have any objection?’

During her last days, when Amrita broke her rib and was bed-ridden, “she used to ask me to get cyanide capsules every day.” Imroz says, “How could I? I instead got her painkillers.”

Amrita believed that “Imroz’s love was a gift” to her and while comparing him to God she writes “father, brother, friend or husband, these words don’t have any relation, but when I saw you –these words found their soul.”

While Amrita wrote a poem “Mein tenu phir milangi” before her death for him, Imroz, who later on turned poet completed the bond with another love poem on her: “Usne jism chhoda hai, saath nahi.”

Quoting Leonard Cohen:

"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love."

In mid-20th century India, Amrita Pritam, with her feminist verse, not only attacked gender roles and expectations by speaking openly of female sexuality, desire, extramarital sex, illegitimate pregnancies, and taboo social behaviors in her poetry, fiction but lived life on her own terms!

Comments (6)

Pammi1234 10 months ago
Nice article
Mini 10 months ago
Such a lovely article on the legendary amrita Pritam...enjoyed!
Swadhina15 10 months ago
Nice article
Rumi 10 months ago
Very nice to read about Amrita's life & passion!
Rumi 10 months ago
Very nice to read about Amrita's life & passion!
AnonymousUser 4 months, 2 weeks ago
Very nice reading!