Round about: Keeping Amrita Pritam’s flame burning | opinion | Hindustan Times
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Round about: Keeping Amrita Pritam’s flame burning

With Amrita Pritam’s centenary celebrations a little more than a year away, heartwarming tributes to her from fans light the way

opinion Updated: Jun 10, 2018 11:05 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Nirupama Dutt
Hindustan Times,
Amrita Pritam,punjabi literature,Sufi poets
The Amrita-Imroz award.(HT Photo)

I think the year was 2002 and the grand dame of Punjabi letters, Amrita Pritam, had grown frail in frame. The body of the much-loved poet was wracked with pain, yet the spirit was still soaring. One day when I went to meet her she showed me her latest treasure. These were three green ‘chaddars’, glittering with silver embellishment, from the tombs of the Sufi poets Waris Shah, Bulleh Shah and Sultan Bahu, which had been sent to her by younger writer friends from Pakistan with a single line, ‘You are the true Waris (heir) of Waris Shah’. Overwhelmed with the gesture, the shrivelled Amrita draped them and got a photograph taken so that she could send it back across the border as thanks.

That was the lady for you who took Punjabi language to great heights in contemporary times to the joy of many and perhaps the envy of some. Understandably, for hers was an unparalleled stature. After her passing away one has seen a trend of many discrediting the fame that truly remains hers and strangely, this has come from those who have been the greatest beneficiaries of her largesse as a nurturer. Some have even gone to great trouble to write the long and short of it in books to prove a point.

Nevertheless, most heartwarming are the tributes that have come from individuals. Punjabi poet Paul Kaur started an annual competition of Pritam’s poetry in SA Jain College for Girls in Ambala. The prizes? Books of poems by the illustrious poet which Kaur herself buys for the girls. “I did this to keep the younger generation abreast with her poetry,” Kaur says.

Amia Kunwar, a Delhi-based poet who translated several of Pritam’s books into Hindi, is putting together memories of people who knew her into a volume to be dedicated to her.

Komil Tyagi, a professor in MCM DAV College for Girls in Chandigarh, is doing video recordings of writers and artists who knew her to create a valuable archive.

Amrita Pritam in her youth.

However, the most touching of gestures comes from Beeba Balwant, a Gurdaspur-based painter-poet, who was greatly encouraged by Pritam to write in the literary magazine ‘Nagmani’ that she brought out with her partner Imroz for some 33 long years. She must have nurtured (these days it’s called mentoring and comes with a price tag) hundreds of writers over two generations. Balwant, who graduated from the Government College of Art, Chandigarh, never forgot it and now he has instituted an Amrita-Imroz award ad infinitum through the Ludhiana Sahitya Akademi.

How did he do it? Balwant (74) says, “I started saving from my pension for the past eight to nine years. One month I would save as much as Rs 8,000 and in the next just Rs 3,000, but I kept saving and collected Rs 5 lakh”. That’s major saving for he draws a modest pension after having worked as an artist with the Punjab State Health Department. The Amrita-Imroz award is to be given every other year to either a painter or a poet. “This amount will get an interest of Rs 70, 000 in two years. The cash award will amount to Rs 51,000 and the remaining amount will be spent on the shawl, the memento and the function,” he says.

When will the first award be presented? Balwant’s reply is: “I had thought it would be 2020 but Amrita’s centenary is on August 31, 2019, so I am giving Rs 51, 000 for the first time as I can collect enough money for the second award only by 2020. I wanted the award to be in the name of two good souls and togetherness”.

First Published: Jun 09, 2018 22:15 IST