Kanya daan !
Heera kadey na kooye
Gau kadey na bole,
Rajj rajj devo daan daaniyo
Kanya daan kanya daan
(We keep giving away our daughters… Diamonds don’t speak, cows never say a word. A girl too doesn’t say a word. We continue giving them away)
From Amrita Pritam’s ‘Lamian Vaatan’
Pain and separation, courage and love, dissent and rebel. None of these words was alien to Amrita Pritam, Punjab’s most significant writer of the 20th century. A mystery to many, she openly professed her love for another man, Sahir Ludhianvi, was in a live-in relationship with artist Inderjeet alias Imroz, and was accused of being a bad wife and mother. Her reply to critics was through her writing.
A century later, she continues to inspire women, and men, as they question, write and research her relevance in the 21st century. At a celebration of Amrita’s 100th birth anniversary at Punjabi Bhawan, Ludhiana, Pal Kaur, 63, retired Punjabi professor from Ambala launched her book Katehrey Vich Aurat: Amrita Pritam De Ang Sang (A Woman In A Witness Box: Amrita Pritam’s life). It has been a norm to make a woman stand in a katehra and question her for her decisions, says Kaur. “Amrita stood in this katehra her entire life. Her decisions were too progressive for people. When she started working at All India radio (AIR) in Lahore, her family objected and said they would pay her thrice the money she got, but she must leave the job. Amrita did not quit. In 1930, she talked about mukta aurat (free woman), and a century later, most women are still not free,” says Kaur. Kaur talks about Mera Pata (My Address), in which Amrita wrote: Ajj main apne ghar da number mitaaya hai. “Amrita Pritam lived in some other world where women owned themselves,” says Kaur.
Neetu Arora, assistant professor, Punjabi University College, Ghudda (Bathinda) who presented a research paper on “Reading Amrita in an anti-woman country”, says “In her three novels — Dr Dev, Geeta and Dilli Shehar Diyan Galliyan — she repeatedly uses the word, zaheen aurat. She was accused of being a bad mother and wife, but she answered people with her pen.” In Amrita’s novel Dilli Diyaan Galliyan, a character says: “Saade desh diyaan kachhiyan sadkan to enni mitti udd ke kapdeyan tey nahi paindi jinhi ujhan udd ke aurat uttey paindi hai…” (The flying dust from the potholed roads of our country does not make clothes dirty, as much as it dirties a woman, her character).
Dr Aatam Randhawa, head of Punjabi Studies, Khalsa College, Amritsar who wrote a paper on the writer’s rebellious spirit, “Amrita Pritam: Vidrohi Sur Dey Aar-Paar”, says, “She was courageous enough to question an institution called marriage, without the woman’s will, which reduced it to a mere physical relationship. It was the pain and anger of every woman who is married against her will. Her live-in relationship was something no Punjabi woman could even think of. As a married woman, she loved another man, Sahir. She rebelled at every step. The greatest thing is that she lived what she wrote.” Padma Shri Dr Surjit Patar says that the way Imroz honoured Amrita’s works and fuelled her passion for writing. “Together they brought out the magazine called Naagmani in which Amrita’s beautiful words were accompanied by Imroz’s art. He gave her wings.”
With a strong belief that she will be back, in her last nazm for Imroz in 2004 said: “Main Tainu Fer Milangi, Kithe… kis tarah… pata nahi… par tainu zaroor milangi” (I will meet you again… Where… How? I know not… but I will meet you again). Amrita passed away in New Delhi on October 31, in 2005.