She is hailed more for the way she lived life on her own terms than the large body of literary work she left behind. Being trapped in a loveless marriage at a young age, Amrita Pritam dared to love – lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi at first, and artist Imroz later, while her first love remained unfulfilled. She spent the rest of her life while living-in with a rather loving and caring Imroz.
Perhaps, love and affection were the most defining attributes of her personality as I observed during my association with her in the last years of her life. She was not only the beloved of several of her admirers, she also responded to them in no less loving a manner.
During those days I was working with news agency UNI in Delhi and used to drop in at her Hauz Khas residence often. She used to treat me like her near and dear ones and I enjoyed the love, affection and trust of this legendary writer in ample measure.
Once when my landlord asked me to vacate his house, she asked her son Shelly to look for a house on rent for me somewhere near their residence. He even found a couple of accommodations, but I told her that I could not afford to pay the high rent in that posh area.
Even when she decided to write her will, she said: “Manoj, after giving it a due thought, I would like you to become a witness to my will rather than anyone else close to me.” I felt privileged and consented to do so.
Excuse to meet her
During those days, I covered for UNI the Nanavati Commission that probed the 1984 riots. It had daily afternoon hearings at Vigyan Bhawan, wherein various witnesses filed affidavits which mostly became the basis of news reports. From my office, I often drove straight to Amrita’s place and on my way back I would access the related affidavits and would file stories that got a good impact in various newspapers.
I once told her that I used the Nanavati excuse to come to her place and hence “cheated my office to see her”. In this context, I even cited the refrain of an old Bollywood number ‘Main tumse milne ayee mandir jaane ke bahane’. She smiled and said, “Eho jeha jhooth tuhanu mubarak(I hail this kind of a lie of yours).”
On one occasion, when I was supposed to call on her in the evening, I refrained from visiting her place as I got a bit late in office. Next time, she asked me, “Manoj, tusin aaye nahin os din?’ I told her that I did not want to disturb her at that late hour. “Aa jaana si. Tusin jad vi aunde o mainu sukh hi milda e (You should have come. I feel glad whenever you come),” she said, making me feel more humble than flattered.
Once she called up at my office in the evening when I had gone to cover an event. A senior colleague told me with a tinge of envy and awe in his eyes, “Amrita Pritam ji called up. She wanted to talk to you.”
When I called her back, she told me she was feeling acute pain in her legs. “Manoj, ki karan main? Ainny peerh sahaar nahi hundi (What can I do? It’s an unbearable pain),” she was literally crying. I told her that after filing my news story, I will call on her residence. “Par Manoj, tusin ki karoge (But what will you do?),” she said in a rather hopeless tone. “Main tuhanu ghutt devanga (I will press your legs),” I replied. “Haaye, main marja,” she was touched and called me home with a renewed hope in her voice.
As I reached her home, Imroz ushered me to her bedroom and went back to his room. Despite the pain, she welcomed me with a smile. Her legs were too delicate to be pressed. I just caressed those fragile limbs for a few minutes and surprisingly, she went into a sound sleep. I went to Imroz’s room where we chatted for long and then had our dinner together. We were chatting again when Amrita woke up and called us. As we entered her room, she said, rather like a child, “Imroz, Manoj mainu bahut der tak ghuttde rahe te mainu bahut changi neend ayee (He pressed my legs for long and I had a sound sleep).”
I think it was her love and affection, and trust in me that worked on her. She got well that moment, while I still feel great reminiscing those unforgettable moments.