Amrita Pritam was born in 1919 into a Sikh family in Gujranwala, Punjab, (today in Pakistan) as the only child of a schoolteacher and a poet. Her mother died when she was eleven. She began to write at an early age, and her first collection was published when she was only sixteen years old, the year she married an editor to whom she was engaged in early childhood.
In 1947, when the former British India was partitioned into the independent states of India and Pakistan, she moved to New Delhi, where she began to write in Hindi as opposed to Punjabi, her mother tongue.
Communal violence that followed the partition in 1947, saddened her as it did many. She explored and wrote extensively about that human dilemma. She worked until 1961 for All India Radio. She was divorced in 1960, and following that her work became more explicitly feminist, drawing on her unhappy marriage in many of her stories and poems.
A number of her works have been translated into English from Punjabi, including her autobiographical works Black Rose and Revenue Stamp. Her novel 'Pinjar' (Skeleton) was made into a Hindi movie by the same name, which released in 2003. 'Pinjar' is set against the backdrop of the violent frenzy and rioting that engulfed the whole of Punjab in the months preceding partition.
Pritam often wrote on the condition of Indian women and her writings reflected their neglect and suppression in Indian society. She was awarded the Jnanpith, India's highest literary award, in 1981 for 'Kagaj te Canvas' (Paper and Canvas).
She was the first woman recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award and the first Punjabi woman to receive the Padma Shree from the President of India in 1969. She was also honoured with Padma Vibhushan in 2004. Though critical of the socialist camp, her works were translated in all the east European languages including French, Japanese and Danish.
Mehfil, a quarterly from Michigan State University published an issue on her works. She received three D Lit degrees from Delhi, Jabalpur and Vishva Bharti Universities in 1973 and 1983 respectively. Despite poor health she continued writing for and editing a monthly magazine in Punjabi called 'Nagmani'.
A story about the lady is incomplete without mentioning Sahir Ludhianvi, the popular Urdu poet and Hindi lyricist and songwriter. She was involved with him when she sought divorce. But Sahir then had a new woman in his life. Amrita then grew closer to Imroz, a famous painter, whom she had known for many years. Amrita lived the last forty years of her life with him.
She died on October 31, 2005 at the age of 86, after a long illness. She is survived by her daughter Kundala and son Navraj and her grandson Aman.
With inputs from News Tomorrow