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Amrita Pritam in the eyes of prominent Punjabi writers

The first woman to win the National Sahitya Akademi Award and the first writer of Punjabi to win the Jnanpith award. She is a recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan as well as several international honours. Prominent Punjabi writers remember her as an unparalleled talent and far ahead of her times.

punjab Updated: Aug 31, 2018 14:25 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times
Amrita Pritam,Punjabi,Punjabi writers
Paul Kaur,(HT Photo)

Amrita Pritam, the grande dame of Punjabi letters, a legend well within her lifetime, was a poet, fiction writer, essayist, biographer and editor of the celebrated literary journal ‘Nagmani’ that she brought out for 33 years. She has many firsts to her credit: The first woman to win the National Sahitya Akademi Award and the first writer of Punjabi to win the Jnanpith award. She is a recipient of Padma Shri and Padma Vibhushan as well as several international honours. Prominent Punjabi writers remember her as an unparalleled talent and far ahead of her times:

Unparalleled talent: Dalip Kaur Tiwana

The contribution of Amrita Pritam to Punjabi letters is unparalleled. She had a multi-dimensional talent. She touched so many genres of literature but it was as a poet that she surpassed all. None of her contemporaries could write a poem like Ajj Akhan Waris Shah Nu. She translated world literature for the benefit of the Punjabi readers and she encouraged so many young writers. If a poem or a story was good she published it without caring if it was coming from a novice or a known writer. She was also a non-conformist. She did so for she thought that she was bringing about a revolution in a woman’s mind. Even the most bitter of her critics have not been able to fault her for her gift to language and literature. They found other things to pull her down like her short hair, her cigarette, her romances and I would tell them that these will perish with her body but her spirit will live in her work. And so she lives on into the 100th year and will continue to do so.

An icon if there ever was one:Gulzar Singh Sandhu

Amrita was the first to create the image of a woman writer in Punjabi literature. Although there had been a few women poets before her, they were soon forgotten. It was this gutsy Gujranwala girl who was able to create a towering icon of a Punjabi writer. In fact, she not only paved the way for women writers but also inspired and encouraged them to write. I recall when as a young man in my 20s I took up a job and was living with a friend in Delhi’s Model Town, she visited my place with Imroz. This dates back to 1958-59. I had also just about started penning stories and she knew me but the visit was a surprise. We spent the evening together and my friend’s mother announced to the neighbours the next day that Amrita had visited our home to meet me. I cannot describe how my reputation went up in the colony. Such was the Amrita charisma that it spread its sheen on anyone she knew. Those days Model Town boasted of quite a few writers and artistes. Hindi writer Kamleshwar lived there, so did singer Surinder Kaur and Urdu writer Krishan Chander. too. It so happened that they had come to meet Krishan but he was not at home so they decided to come and see me. She had brought her latest book of poems, Kasturi for Krishan but I was the lucky one who got it duly autographed!

Far ahead of her times: Paul Kaur

I often wonder what it would have been the lot of us girls from orthodox Punjabi homes in small towns. Would we have been able to write poetry? Would we have been even able to express ourselves? Or for that matter even live independent lives if we did not have Amrita, the role model? Probably not!

In both her life and literature, she broke the glass ceiling. She nurtured two generations of writers, but it was the women who were the greater legatees of the liberal traditions she supported. In the feudal agrarian society of Punjab, we have just two models of female defiance: Medieval heroine Heer and Amrita of the 20th century, who became an inspiration for generations to come. What pains one is that a writer like Amrita was thwarted at all steps by male guardians of society. Yet she was brave and strong enough to follow her dreams and never say die. The media would and still thrives in highlighting her personal life than her writing.

All know her but very few have read her poetry. But joy comes to my heart when I see the younger generation, including my students studying or teaching Punjabi literature in college, in college responding with warm emotion to her writings. Amritaji, you have won and so have we.

First Published: Aug 31, 2018 14:25 IST