I met celebrated poet Amrita Pritam for the first time through a common acquaintance, Sai Kaka, in the mid-’90s, though I longed to meet her ever since I started reading her literary magazine, Nagmani, in my young days.
Interestingly, I met Kaka, a spiritual leader, after Amrita gave his name and address to a friend of mine who once asked her if she knew any enlightened person in Delhi.
Kaka told me one day that Amrita is suffering from a chronic and mysterious fever that grips her in the evening and subsides by dawn. I told him that one of my friends knew a good homoeopath and that conversation led me to her Hauz Khaz house one evening. She started taking the medicine from that doctor. It seemed to work initially, but the fever did not quite leave her.
Nevertheless, I found her full of life and zest whenever I visited her house. She had a passion for everything good, interesting, beautiful, romantic, creative, profound and spiritual.
Even in her 80s, she had an insatiable curiosity and stamina to chase new pursuits. One morning, when I called on her she had just finished reading an article on Feng Shui in a newspaper and wanted to know more about this Chinese spiritual science. She asked me if I could get the phone number of its writer.
She had a great memory as well. One summer afternoon, she called me up and asked if I could visit her home at that time. When I reached there, she introduced me to a veteran Punjabi writer and said, “Manoj, he is Devinder whose story you were referring to in a chat the other day.” We had that conversation a long time ago.
On another occasion, she offered me a painting by Imroz, featuring her photo wherein she was draped in holy ‘chadars’ from the ‘mazars’ of a couple of Sufi poets in Pakistan presented to her by visitors from across the border. That day was my birthday. “I don’t give my pictures to others but here is one for you,” she said, making me feel special.
However, her health took a downslide after she broke her pelvic bone after slipping in the bathroom in the winter of 2002. I called on her in a South Delhi hospital where she had a bone replacement surgery. She was going through acute pain.
It was around that time that she decided to wind up Nagmani that baptised hundreds of people like me into the world of literature.
In the subsequent years, her pain subsided but she could not walk again. She swung like a pendulum between hope and despair. As death stared at her, she wrote her touching swan song, ‘Main tenu pher milaangi (I will meet you again)’, addressed to Imroz, her live-in partner and artist, taking their love onto a cosmic plane for an eternal reunion.
At the fag-end of her life, she went into a long silence as if she intentionally withdrew her consciousness from this material world, well before she left this world on October 31, 2005.
Ironically, poetry started flowing through Imroz only after her death. He wrote beautiful poems about her, which he could no longer read out to her. I asked him, “Doesn’t it hurt you? Don’t you feel she should have been around to appreciate your poetry?”
He said, “I think it reaches her wherever she is now.” Perhaps they are meeting at the same cosmic plane she referred to in her last poem.