February had still to come with the festival of Basant at hand that I started getting calls from scribes who wished to talk to me about Amrita Pritam or get in touch with her surviving partner Imroz. Since Amritaji's birth date or that of her death anniversary was far away, I started wondering what the reason was prompting young journalists to write about the grand dame of Punjabi letters. There was little anxiety that all be well with her family. Finally, I asked one of them the reason and prompt came the reply, "We want to do a feature on her for Valentine's Day."
For a moment I was bowled over by the connection of Hamari Amrita with this commercial and exhibitionist carnival of L-O-V-E? Had a scribe called her when she was alive, her reply would have been, "What is this day? I don't know about it." I recall when Amritaji was ailing some three years before her death in 2005, a French journalist seeing some translation of her poems on the internet wanted her email address. When I went and told her that, she said: "What is an email? I know nothing about it."
Modern in thought yet our Amrita exuded an old-world charm with all its delicacy and etiquette. One wonders what she would have thought of gifts starting from red roses to lingerie; from perfumes to heart-shaped diamond pendants. "This is a strange way to express your love. Love is to be felt spiritually and not displayed so materialistically." In fact her first love, Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi, had written a radical poem called Taj Mahal in which he had derided Shahjahan saying: "Ek shehanshah ne daulat ka sahara lekar, Hum gareebon ki mohabbat ka udaya hai mazak, Meri mehboob kahin aur mila kar mujhse (An emperor with the aid of his wealth has mocked the love of us poor folk)".
Well Amritaji, the old order changeth! Gone are the days of unsaid love, stolen glances and literally passing through the river of fire on this path: Now the louder, the ostentatious, the outspoken the better. Well Valentine's Day celebrations in India came only in the early nineties with globalisation and free market economy with people watching satellite TV in which channels dedicated programmes, and horror of horrors, love letter writing competitions were organised. The personal went public with a vengeance. This was engineered by the big boom in the card and gift industry.
The young in the country were drawn to St Valentine in a big way and the celebrations became a law-and-order problem in many cities, including the comparatively calm city of Chandigarh. And now the lyrical love story of Amrita, which moved from romance with Sahir Ludhianvi to a lifelong relationship with artist Imroz, is being related. It is amusing to note how the octogenarian Imroz will respond to the missiles shot by the Valentine valiants? Perhaps it would be best if he recited these two lines from a song by Amritaji: Ishq di dehleez te sajjda kare ga jadd koi, Yaad phir dehleez nu mera zamaana ayega (When someone bows before the threshold of love/Memory of my days will come to the threshold).