IT was a walk down memory lane to celebrate the life and times of legendary Punjabi poet and writer, Amrita Pritam, who lives in the hearts of many through her verses and words. A tribute to Amrita Pritam, was organised Saturday at the Press Club, Chandigarh, to celebrate her birth centenary.
Curated and conceptualised by author and poet Nirupama Dutt, who had a long and personal relationship with Pritam, the programme saw writers, poets, theatre artists and readers come together to share their memories of Pritam and reminisce her contribution to Punjabi literature.
Reciting a few lines from, ‘Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shan Nu’, Pritam’s immortal piece of writing that expressed horrors, pain and anguish of Punjab’s partition, Dutt said, “ It’s a work that is so relevant in today’s time and situation. This nazm made her immortal. It reached Faiz Ahmad Faiz, while he was in jail and people kept it in their pockets and cried. The nazm expressed pain of sanjha or collective Punjab and Amrita was the waaris of both Heer and Waris.”
Born in Gujranwala in a Khatri family in 1919, Pritam was brought up in a liberal environment as women in that age and time were voiceless. She was the first woman, intellectually far ahead of her times, to talk of pain and sufferings of women through her writings, Dutt said, adding, that Pritam spoke of a composite Punjab and was an inspiration for countless young writers. She gave an entire generation of writers a platform to express through the magazine, ‘Nagmani’, which she started in 1966. It set a new phase in Punjabi literature and a mirror of change for society. Pritam was the first woman recipient of Sahitya Akademi Award and also won the Jnanpith Award and the Padma Vibhushan.
Gulzar Singh Sandhu recalls how he wrote to Pritam when she won the Sahitya Natak Akademi Award, and got a prompt hand-written reply from her, asking him to meet her if he stayed in Delhi. “I took my cycle and went to meet her at her house in Patel Nagar. Over the years, I got to know her and Imroz closely. She was such a warm, beautiful and brilliant human being. Her poetry and writing appeal to people as it’s simple and talks of human life. She and her work find place in people’s hearts,” says Gulzar.
Theatre artist, Rani Balbir Kaur, appreciated with compassion of how Pritam wrote about love, hope, separation, feminism, partition and struggles of women “I had the privilege of knowing, both her and Imroz. She had written a nazm on Word Peace Day and told someone that I should sing it, which I did. I first met her in Balwant Gargi’s den in Delhi, a space for creative people to come together and share their experiences. Here, she recited ‘Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shan Nu’, a vision that is etched in my mind,” Rani sang a few lines from the nazm as an ode to Pritam.
Rani shared some moments she spent with Pritam in her last days, recalling that despite the physical pain, the shine in her eyes and her face was intact. “She asked me to sing to her and even recited what she was writing at the time. She wrote even in her illness. She was a woman filled with so much love, warmth and great intellect,”Rani said. Young writers like Manoj and Sidhu Damdami also shared some memories of Pritam and the impact of her work.