Sonchirri Multimedia Magazine: Featuring Women of Punjabi Origin Series
Amrita Pritam : Writer
Amrita Kaur was born on 31 August 1919, in Gujranwala, Punjab in British Raj. She was the only child of Kartar Singh and Raj Bibi, a Sikh couple. Her father was a school teacher and a poet. She grew up in a spiritual environment and inherited her love for writing from her father. He was also a “pracharak”—a preacher of the Sikh religion. Her orthodox grandmother used separate sets of utensils to serve Hindus and Muslims. From a young age, Amrita was a critical thinker and opposed such practices. When Amrita was just 11 years old her mother passed away. The little girl had prayed desperately to God to save her mother and stopped praying when her mother died in spite of her prayers.
She moved to Lahore with her father and found herself overburdened with household chores. She felt very sad and lonely and sought solace in writing.
Her first anthology of poems ‘Amrit Lehran’ (Immortal Waves) was published in 1936 when she was 16 years old. At the same age she married Pritam Singh, an editor to whom she was engaged in early childhood, and changed her name from Amrita Kaur to Amrita Pritam.
Amrita Pritam wrote romantic poetry during the period of 1936 - 1943. Though she began her journey as romantic poet, soon she shifted gears, and became part of the Progressive Writers' Movement and its effect was seen in her collection, Lok Peed (People's Anguish) (1944), which openly criticized the war-torn economy, after the Bengal famine of 1943. She was also involved in social work to certain extent.
In 1947, some one million people, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs died from communal violence that followed the partition of British India, and left Amrita Pritam a Punjabi refugee at age 28, when she left Lahore and moved to New Delhi. Subsequently in 1948, while she was pregnant with her son, and travelling from Dehradun to Delhi, she expressed anguish on a piece of paper as the poem, "Ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu" (I ask Waris Shah Today); this poem was to later immortalise her and become the most poignant reminder of the horrors of Partition. The poem addressed to the Sufi poet Waris Shah, author of the tragic saga of Heer and Ranjah and with whom she shares her birthplace.
In 1960, Amrita Pritam left her husband. She is also said to have an unrequited affection for poet Sahir Ludhianvi. The story of this love is depicted in her autobiography, Rasidi Ticket (Revenue Stamp). Amrita found solace in the companionship of the renowned artist and writer Imroz. She spent the last forty years of her life with Imroz, who also designed most of her book covers and made her the subject of his several paintings. Their life together is also the subject of a book, Amrita Imroz: A Love Story.
In her career spanning over six decades, she penned 28 novels, 18 anthologies of prose, five short stories and 16 miscellaneous prose volumes. A number of her works have been translated into English, French, Danish, Japanese, Mandarin and other languages from Punjabi and Urdu, including her autobiographical works Black Rose and Rasidi Ticket. The first of Amrita Pritam's books to be filmed was Dharti Sagar te Sippiyan, as ‘Kadambari’ (1965), followed by ‘Unah Di Kahani’, as Daaku (Dacoit, 1976), directed by Basu Bhattacharya. Her novel Pinjar (The Skeleton, 1970) narrates the story of partition riots along with the crisis of women who suffered during the times. She edited "Nagmani", a monthly literary magazine in Punjabi for several years, which she ran together with Imroz, for 33 years; though after Partition she wrote prolifically in Hindi as well. Later in life, she turned to Osho and wrote introductions for several books of Osho, including Ek Onkar Satnam, and also started writing on spiritual themes and dreams, producing works like Kaal Chetna (Time Consciousness) and Agyat Ka Nimantran (Call of the Unknown).
She died in her sleep on 31 October 2005 at the age of 86 in New Delhi, after a long illness. She was survived by her partner Imroz, daughter Kandala, son Navraj Kwatra, daughter-in-law Alka, and her grandchildren, Taurus, Noor, Aman and Shilpi. Navraj Kwatra was killed in 2012.
Amrita is the first recipient of Punjab Rattan Award conferred upon her by Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh. She is first woman recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1956 for Sunehadey, Amrita Pritam received the Bhartiya Jnanpith Award, India's highest literary award, in 1982 for Kagaj te Canvas. She received the Padma Shri (1969) and Padma Vibhushan, India's second highest civilian award, and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship, India's highest literary award, also in 2004. She received D.Litt. honorary degrees, from many universities. She also received International Vaptsarov Award from the Republic of Bulgaria (1979) and Degree of Officer dens, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (Officier) by the French Government (1987). She was nominated as a member of Rajya Sabha 1986–92. Towards the end of her life, she was awarded by Pakistan's Punjabi Academy, to which she had remarked, Bade dino baad mere maike ko meri yaad aayi.. (My motherland has remembered me after a long time); and also Punjabi poets of Pakistan, sent her a chaddar, from the tombs of Waris Shah, and fellow Sufi mystic poets Bulle Shah and Sultan Bahu.
(Please note: We intend to add profiles of the noted women of Punjabi origin into this series. We obtain information from various internet sites, books, magazines and people. If anyone claims for any information to be untrue based on proofs, we shall take it down upon notification)