Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pakistan's Forgotten Daughter

Amrita and Imroz
I have used word forgotten but in reality Pakistani Punjabi majority has hardly heard her name. Punjabi’s are not to blame for this because education system and media has refused to accept her as daughter or others as sons because they were not Pakistanis or not muslims. Punjabi’s are not to blame for this because they have never heard about them anywhere in the Pakistani society. Iam also included in this and read her name through internet.

The forgotten daughter is Amrita Pritam born on August 31, 1919 in the British Punjab’s town of Gujranwala ( Now in Pakistan) as Amrita Kaur. Both Her parents mother Raj Bibi and father Kartar singh Hitkari were teachers in the Panih Khand Bhassaur School in Gujaranwala. Her father was also religious scholar and preacher in Gujranwala.
According to Amrita Pritam in her autobiography ‘Rasidi Ticket’ says the two daughters of Babu Teja Singh, the founder of the school, were among their pupils. What inspired them one day I would not know, but both organised a kirtan in the Gurudwara, said their prayers, and wound up with a special one for the occasion: "Hearken to these voices, O Lord, please grant the boon of a child to our teacher...."
When my father, who was in the congregation, heard these words he flared up at my mother. He suspected that the special prayer was my mother's doing. She, poor soul, was as surprised as he was. Babu Teja Singh's daughters explained later that if they had taken my mother Raj Bibi into confidence, she might have asked for the birth of a son. But they wanted a girl in their master's house-a girl like themselves.
 Why did those girls think of this very strange prayer? I don't know. But the prayer was heard.  Within a year from that day, Raj Bibi had become a mother.
 Just as amazingly, a moment from ten years earlier, wakes up from the womb of Time-the moment when Raj Bibi, only twenty years of age, offered her homage at the habitation of sadhus at Gujranwala, and there saw Nand Sadhu....
Nand Sadhu was the son of a wealthy moneylender. When he was only six months old, his mother Lachrni died. His maternal grandmother wrapped him up in her arms and got a grain-winnower as wet-nurse.
Nand had four brothers and a sister-but two of his brothers had died; one-Gopal Singh-an inveterate drunkard, forsook his family for the love of the bottle; the other-Hakim Singh-took to the life of a sadhu. So Nand knew only his elder sister, Hakko, whom he grew to love dearly. From all I have heard, she was a bewitching creature and was married when she came of age. But the moment she saw her groom, Bela Singh, she knew he was not the one for her. On her first visit to her parental home after her marriage, she asked for a basement to be built. As soon as it was ready she betook herself to it and fasted for forty days. She then took the saffron robes and lived on cooked grams soaked overnight in plain water. Nand followed suit. He also, began to wear saffron robes. Alas! his sister did not live long and when she died, Nand renounced the world.

He turned his back on the incalculable wealth of his grandfather, Amar Singh Sachdev, the 'moneylender, had left him, and went and joined Sant Dayal's ashram. There he learnt Sanskrit, Braj bhasha and the lore of hakims. They used to call him Bal Sadhu-the young holiness. While his sister was still alive, Nand's aunt and uncle had him betrothed to a girl in Amritsar. Nand broke off the engagement and began writing poems steeped in the spirit of renunciation.
Raj Bibi was from the village Monga in Gujarat district, and was married through the prevalent barter system. But the man to whom her life was to be linked went and got himself recruited as a soldier. No one heard of him again. For Raj Bibi it was a life without hope, an empty life. But what matters is not life but the courage you bring to it. She began teaching in a school at Gujranwala. Everyday on her way to school, she would first go with her sister-in-law to Dayalji's ashram for her prayers. Her brother had died. Her widowed sister-in-law's brother had been exchanged with hers for a husband. But now, the two lost souls taught in the same school and kept house together. One day, when Raj Bibi and her sister-in-law were at Dayalji's ashram, it started raining heavily. There was no question of anyone leaving the ashram in that rain. So Dayalji asked Bal Sadhu to recite some poems till the weather cleared. Bal Sadhu was in the habit of closing his eyes as he recited. The recital over, he opened them and they were immediately attracted towards Raj Bibi and could not take them off her. Dayalji noticed this. He did not say any thing immediately but some days later took Nand aside and said: "Nand, my boy, this life of renunciation is not for you. Give up these saffron robes and get married."
That was how Raj Bibi became my mother, and Nand Sadhu my father. On his marriage, Nand changed his name to Kartar Singh. Since he wrote poetry, he had also taken on a pseudonym- Peeyookh-the Sanskrit word for nectar. Ten years later when I was born, he named me "Amrita", the Punjabi equivalent for peeyookh; while he himself changed his nom de plume to Hitkari. After her mother's death in 1930, when she was eleven, Amrita and her father moved to Lahore and worked at All India Radio Lahore. They lived in Lahore till partition of the punjab and moved to dehli in august 1947 . The early demise of her mother left her in a state of isolation and saw her handling many adult-like responsibilities at a very young age. This led her to writing poetry as a young girl. She started her literary career as a romantic poet. Her leanings towards romance can be seen in 'Amrit Lehren' (Immortal Waves) in 1936. When she was sixteen, Amrita married Pritam Singh, an editor to whom she was engaged to when she was a child. Amrita Pritam worked at the All India Radio in Delhi. In 1960, her marriage with Pritam Singh found itself on the rocks. This change in her life made her a feminist of sorts. Many of her stories and poems portrayed the unhappy experiences of her married life.

Many of her stories were made into films. Her novel 'Pinjaar' (The Skeleton, 1970) which was made into a film, was an award winning movie. She was also the editor of a Punjabi monthly literary magazine called 'Nagmani' which she ran along with Lyallpur born Imroz,  the man who was her partner at the time of her death on 31st October 2005 in New Dehli. She started writing the introductions for several books of Osho, one of them being 'Ek Omkar Satnam'. She produced works on spiritual themes and dreams like 'Kaal Chethna' (Time Consciousness') and 'Agyat ka Nimantran' (Call of the Unknown'). Amrita published autobiographies such as 'Black Rose' ('Kala Gulab' in Punjabi, 1968), 'Revenue Stamp' ('Raseedi Tikkat' in Punjabi, 1976) and 'Aksharon ka Saayee' ('Shadows of Words'). 'Sunehray' ('Golden'), can be considered her magnum opus. It fetched Amrita the Sahitya academy award in 1956. 'Kagaz te Canvas' ('Paper and Canvas'), yet another masterpiece of her, helped her qualify for the Jnanapit Award in 1982. 

Amrita Pritam was a Punjabi writer and poet, considered the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, and the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language, with a career spanning over six decades, she produced over 100 books, of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs and an autobiography that were translated into several Indian and foreign languages. Many writers describe Amrita Pritam as the goddess of defiance, a rebel and a revolutionary who lived her life with utmost intensity. She had an admirable influence on Punjabi literature.  

First time I read her name and touching poem in the book “Punjabi is not going to die” written by I would call him Punjabi saint Saeed farani. This touching poem has her expression of sorrow on the partition of Punjab.

From the depth of your grave, Waris Shah
Add a new page to your saga of  love
Once when a daughter of Punjab wept
Your pen unleashed a million cries
A million daughters weep today,
Their eyes turned to you, waris shah

According to Amrita pritam in her ‘Rasidi Ticket’ the published poem found its way to Pakistan. Later still, Ahmed Nadeem Kazmi disclosed in his foreword to a book by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, that he had read the poem in jail. On his release, he recounts having seen copies of it with common men who would weep when they read it.
At a BBC interview in London (1972), I was introduced to Sahab Kizilbash, the Pakistani poetess, who exclaimed: "Am! So this is Amrita...the writer of those lines! I ought to be embracing her...!"

‘Doctor Dev’,   ‘Kore Kagaz’, ‘Unchas Din’, ‘Sagar aur seepian’, ‘Rang Ka Patta’, ‘Dilli Ki Galiyan’, Terahwan Suraj’, ‘Yaatri’, ‘Jilavatan’ (1968)

Short Stories

'Kahaniyan Jo Kahaniyan Nahi', 'Kahaniyon ke Angan mein', 'Stench of Kerosene'


'Kala Gulab', 1968, 'Rasidi Ticket' (1976), 'Aksharon ka Saayee' (2004). 

'Amrit Lehran' (Immortal Waves) (1936), 'Jiunda Jiwan' (The Exuberant Life) (1939), ' 'Trel Dhote Phul' (1942), 'O Gitan Valia' (1942), 'Badlam De Laali' (1943), 'Sanjh de laali' (1943), 'Lok Peera' (The People's Anguish) (1944), 'Pathar Geetey' (The Pebbles) (1946), 'Punjabi Di awaaz' (1952), 'Sunehay' (Messages) (1955), 'Ashoka Cheti' (1957, 'Kasturi' (1957), 'Nagmani' (1964), 'Ik Si Anita' (1964), 'Chak Nambar Chatti' (1964),'Uninja Din (49 Days)' (1979), 'Kagaz Te Kanvas' (1981), and 'Chuni Huyee Kavitayen'

Literary Journal


Punjab Rattan Award
Sahitya Academy Award, 1956
Bharathiya Jnanapit Award, 1982
Padmashree, 1969
Padma Vibhushan
Sahitya Academy Fellowship, 2004
D.Litt Honorary Degree from Delhi University (1973), Jabalpur University (1973)
Viswabharathi (1987)
Vapsarov award by Republic of Bulgaria, 1979
Degree of Officer dens by French government, 1987

Nominated to the Rajya Sabha

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