Main chamm di guddi, Khed lai, khida lai….
Lahu da pyaala, pee lai, pila lai…
Tere saahven khadi haan eh…
Vartan di shae, Jeeven chaahe varat lae…
-Patthar Geetey (1946)
(Oh my bread-giver (husband), I am merely a doll of flesh for you. Play with me and fondle me the way you want. I am standing in front of you. Use me the way you want…)
Amrita. Immortal. Eternal. The one who can never be killed.
Unapologetically bold and expressive, both in her writings and personal life, Amrit Kaur alias Amrita Pritam born in Gujranwala of Pakistan on August 31, 1919 was all that a woman wasn’t allowed or accepted to be in her times — a fierce writer, a passionate lover and a born rebel.
Questioned and accused of “crossing those boundaries meant for woman”, she lived, braved, survived and answered all with her words.
“Jithe vi sutantar rooh di jhalak pave, samajhna oh mera ghar hai...(Wherever you see a glimpse of a free soul, consider that as my home),” she wrote in the poem ‘Mera Pata’ (My Address).
A century later, Amrita still stands mightiest in her words for women’s right to love, live, express and protest. A first woman-led revolution in Punjabi literature that started in Lahore of undivided India with sixteen-year old Amrita penning her first anthology of poems ‘Amrit Lehran‘ (Immortal Waves) in 1936 to Main Tenu Phir Milangi (I will meet you Again) in 2004, her works still speak the loudest for women, smashing patriarchy with each word.
An unwilling marriage with Pritam Singh of Lahore in 1936 when she was just 16 and the courage to walk out of it later, her insane and nearly one-sided love for lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi and smoking his cigarette leftovers to feel his touch and then a 40-year long live-in relationship with artist Inderjeet alias Imroz till her death, Amrita left the bold, courageous and painful imprints of her own life in her greatest literary works.
Penning Sunehade (Messages), her collection of love messages for Sahir Ludhianvi, the man she loved insanely and spent nearly fourteen years waiting for him won her Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956. India’s highest literary honor Jnanpith Award came her way in 1982 for ‘Kaagaz Tey Canvas’ in which she expressed her pain and anguish against her child marriage. She questioned the institution called marriage ‘solemnised’ against woman’s will. She became the first woman to get these two highest literary honors. (First woman litterateur in the Punjabi language to get Jnanpith award)
Her last poetic work ‘Main Tainu Pher Milangi’ (I will Meet you Again) in 2004 was for Imroz whom she met in 1957, the man who loved her insanely, the way she loved Sahir.
She also discerned the pain of the partition from a woman’s eyes as she herself migrated from Lahore to Delhi. “Ajj aakhan Waris Shah nu, kiton qabran vichon bol‘ and the novel ‘Pinjar’ (The Skeleton) spoke of how women were the worst victims of Punjab’s dissection. The French translation of ‘Pinjar’ got her La Route des Indes literary prize.
In 2004, she was feted with India’s second highest civilian honor Padma Vibhushan.
“Sau saal baad bhi, Amrita ek aisa khazaana hai jo kabhi khatam hi nahi hota (Even a century later, Amrita is one such treasure that is never over). Like her name she is immortal,” says Amia Kunwar (62), a writer with five books dedicated to Amrita, the latest being ‘Pher Tainu Yaad Kita’. (Remembering You Again)
Comparing her to a flower in a book ‘Amrita Ikk Kaynaat’, Kunwar wrote, ‘Ajj pher Amrita khidi hai..oh jo khusbhoo banke udd gayi hai, phull banke parat aavegi..’ (Amrita has blossomed again today. She vanished like a fragrance, she will return like a flower again).
Imroz, now 93, is still smitten by Amrita’s love and keeps gazing at her sketches on his canvass, at his residence in Delhi where he lives with Alka, Amrita’s daughter-in-law (wife of late Navraj, a son she had from her marriage).
“Imroz hasn’t accepted Amrita’s death still. He keeps looking at her sketches he made, keeps preserving them and asking repeatedly if even one of them is missing. He still talks like ‘Amrita eddan kardi hai’ (Amrita does like this) not ‘Amrita eddan kar di si’(She used to do like this). For him she is still alive,” shares Kunwar.
Of her three autobiographies — Kaala Gulab (1968), Rasidi Ticket (1976) and Aksharon Ke Saaye (2004) — it was in ‘Rasidi Ticket’ that she openly professed her love for Sahir Ludhianvi and that how grateful she was to Imroz for accepting her. The collection of letters she exchanged with Imroz was published as a book ‘Dastavez’.
Of the suffocation that she felt in a marriage which never had her will and was merely reduced to a physical relationship, she poured her heart out in poem ‘Kumari’ from ‘Kagaz tey Canvas’ and wrote,‘Main teri sej tey jadd pair dhareya si, main ikk nahi sa do sa… ikk saalam vihaayi, tey ikk saalam kumari..tere bhog di khaatar main uss kumari nu qatal karna si… main qatal kitta si… eh qatal jo kanoonan jaayaz hunde han.. sirf ohna di zillat najaayaz hundi hai..’
(When I had entered your home, I wasn’t one but two souls. One married, another virgin. For your lust, I had to murder that unmarried virgin. I did that murder. A murder which was legal. Just the humiliation and guilt that a woman feels after such murder is not accepted legally)
Padma Shri Dr Surjit Patar prefers to talk about Imroz first and thank him for the way he loved Amrita. “Main samajhdan ki Imroz ne kaafi purshan de matthey ton daag utaare, jis tarah ohne Amrita nu pyaar kita..(Imroz wiped off many blots on men community by the way he loves Amrita),” he says. “He honored her writings, helped her in achieving her dreams,” he adds.
And knowing that the world too won’t be able to forget Amrita Pritam so easily for centuries to come, she wrote, ‘Ishq di dehleez tey sajda karega jadd koi, yaad phir dehleez nu mera zamaana aayega… (Whenever someone will knock the door of true love, my era of love will always be remembered…)