It’s so very true that a literary figure’s creativity and never-ending curiosity to express their inner thoughts makes them different from others. Literature is the platform from where truth can be fearlessly spoken, and satire used effectively to target otherwise unassailable public figures to come back on the track. Amrita Pritam was among the noted Indian writers of the 20th-century who never shied away from unveiling the truth through her phenomenal writing.
Pritam is considered the most prolific and prominent Punjabi woman writer, poet, novelist, and essayist, who penned down numerous literary works. She thrilled her readers with her stupendous writing. She was born exactly 100 years ago on August 31, 1919, in Gujranwala town (now in Pakistan).
At the age of 11, Amrita Pritam lost her mother. She and her father then moved to Lahore, where she lived till 1947. Overwhelmed by her loneliness and her mother’s untimely death, Pritam began writing at a very young age. She was only 16 when she published her first collection of poems titled Amrit Lehran in 1935. The same year she was married to Pritam Singh, to whom she was engaged since childhood.
Starting off as a romantic poet, Pritam soon became a part of the Progressive Writers’ Movement and the effect of that can clearly be seen in her writing. In her collection, Lok Peed written in 1944, Pritam commented on the war-ravaged economy after the Bengal famine in 1943. Apart from writing, Pritam also supported social causes enthusiastically. For instance, she assisted in the opening of the first Janta Library in Delhi and was also part of the Lahore Radio Station before the Partition.
After the Partition in 1947, Amrita moved from Lahore to Delhi and was heartbroken over the large number of deaths caused by the Partition. Amrita penned down one of her most famous work, a poem titled “Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Nu”, which epitomizes the terror of Partition.
By 1960, Pritam had divorced her husband Pritam Singh and it is believed that she shared an extreme closeness with poet Sahir Ludhainavi, which is something she wrote about in her autobiography. But her chemistry with Ludhianvi did not brew to a logical end, and they drifted apart.
Later in life, Amrita found comfort in the company of writer and artist Imroz, with whom she enjoyed a wonderful and precious forty years of her life. Imroz designed most of her book covers and made her the subject of several of his paintings. Their life together has been chronicled in a book titled, ‘Amrita Imroz: A Love Story’. The inner love story doesn’t end here.
First meeting of Amrita and Imroz turned into love at the first sight. Amrita did not stop her expression and wrote a poem ‘Shaam ka Phool’ (the evening flower) after her first meeting with Imroz. Since then, their never-ending curiosity for each other led to intimacy, and their Amar Prem Kahani thrived.
One should go through the book ‘In the Times of Love and Longing’. It chronicles their lingering and everlasting love for each other. The love letters of Amrita and Imroz in the book provide an interesting insight into two highly creative minds. After reading this book, readers will understand how nicely they decorated their life. Their extraordinary relationship remained intact until the end. “I will meet you again,” Amrita wrote in a poem for her lover and jaan Imroz.
Until 1961, Pritam worked in All India Radio, Delhi. Apart from her job in radio and her writing, Pritam also edited a monthly Punjabi literary magazine Nagmani. After the partition, Pritam had also begun to write in Hindi and soon became a disciple of Osho Rajneesh as well. During this period, she wrote introductions to many Osho books, such as ‘Ek Onkar Satnam’. She also began writing on spiritual topics and some of her best-known works are Kaal Chetna and Agyat ka Nimantran etc.
Some of Pritam’s best known works remain Pinjar, Dharti Sagar te Sippiyanand Unah Di Kahan. She also penned many memorable autobiographies, such as Kala Gulab, Rasidi Ticket and Aksharon Kay Saaye. Many of her novels have been made into popular films and her works have been translated into foreign languages such as English, French, Danish, Japanese, Hindi and Urdu.
Amrita Pritam has been the recipient of many prestigious awards, including the Punjab Ratan Award, Sahitya Akademi Award (she was the first woman recipient), Bhartiya Jnanpith Award, the Shatabhi Samman, the Padma Shri, Padma Vibhushan and the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship.
Apart from these, Pritam has also received international honours like the Vaptsarov Award from Bulgaria and the Ordre d’Arts et des Lettres from the government of France. She was elected as a member of the Rajya Sabha from 1986 to 1992, and was awarded by Pakistan’s Punjabi Academy as well, as she was extremely popular across the border too.
In spite of seeing lots of ups and downs in her life, her health gradually started deteriorating. Death is inevitable. Everyone has to pass through this reality. So was the case with the famed Punjabi and Hindi writer Amrita Pritam. She breathed her last on October 31, 2005, in Delhi after a prolonged illness. She was 86. Her four-decade-old living partner Imroz was present beside her bedside when her soul left her body. With this, the chapter of an eternal love story came to an end. However, people from all walks of life continue to remember her to this day, especially on her 100th birth anniversary. Not to be left behind, Google also launched a doodle in the honour of this noted and prolific Punjabi writer Amrita Pritam.