Forgotten Stories: Amrita Pritam, A Woman Who Lived By Her Own Rules

On the eve of August 15, 1947 Amrita Pritam wrote –


These were the people who dared to dream 
When they wept, the eyes of the times wept too 
When they sang, they sang of sacrifice 
These were the people ready to give away their lives
These were the people who coloured their hands in the henna of their own blood 
These were the people who sang who drank the poison of slavery 
These were the people who celebrated the hangings 
These were the people who turned the reins of fate inside 
These were the people who smashed the chains of their feet 
These were the people who were the fulfilment of time 
They are the paths, and the destinations 
They are the ruins, and the foundations 
Forever rooted/uprooted 
O God of dreams, they are your lament, your complaint 
They are something, and nothing 
They are the question and the answer 
They are patience, they are anger 
They are something, they are nothing 
They are the silence of the times 
They are the revolution. 
These ordinary people… These ordinary people… These ordinary people…

Amrita Pritam Poetry- Forgotten Stories This was not the first time that she expressed her pain through the ink of her pen. In 1936, when Amrita was only 16, she published an anthology  of her poems Amrit Lehran (Immortal Waves). The anthology was a dedication to her mother who she lost at the age of 11. The pain never stopped and hence, Amrita never stopped. While travelling from Dehradun to Delhi in 1948, with a child in her womb, she wrote the nazm “Aj Ankha Waris Shah”, on a scrap of paper. Then came Pinjar, and many other poignant works that challenged communal hatred and told the story of plight of women during partition in 1947. Amrita’s story is one of bitter-sweet passion and of unrequited love, of yearning and loss. It is also a story of strength, of a woman who was much more than words can ever describe.


Aaj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu

by Amrita Preetam

Amrita Pritam


Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,
Kiton Qabraan Wichon Bol,
Tey Ajj Kitaab-e-Ishq Daa,
Koi Agla Warka Phol

Today, I call Waris Shah,
“Speak from inside your grave”
And turn, today,
the book of love’s next affectionate page

Ikk Royi Sii Dhi Punjab Di,
Tu Likh Likh Maarey Wain,
Ajj Lakhaan Dhiyan Rondiyan,
Tenu Waris Shah Nuu Kain

Once, one daughter of Punjab cried;
you wrote a wailing saga
Today, a million daughters,
cry to you, Waris Shah

Uthh Dard-Mandaan Diya Dardiya,
Utth Tak Apna Punjab
Ajj Bailey Lashaan Bichiyaan
Tey Lahoo Di Bhari Chenab

Rise! O’ narrator of the grieving;
rise! look at your Punjab
Today, fields are lined with corpses,
and blood fills the Chenab

Kisey Ne Panjaan Paaniyan Wich
Diti Zahar Rala,
Tey Unhan Paniyaan Dharat Nuu
Dita Paani Laa

Someone has mixed poison
in the five rivers’ flow
Their deadly water is, now,
irrigating our lands galore

Iss Zarkhaiz Zameen Dey
Loon Loon Phuttiya Zahar
Gitth Gitth Charhiyaan Laaliyan
Fuut Fuut Charrhiya Kaher

This fertile land is sprouting,
venom from every pore
The sky is turning red
from endless cries of gore

Wey Waleesi Wha Phair,
Wan Wan Wagi Jaa,
Ohney Har Ikk Waans Di
Wanjli Diti Naag Bana

The toxic forest wind,
screams from inside its wake
Turning each flute’s bamboo-shoot,
into a deadly snake

Pehla Dang Madaariyan,
Mantar Gaye Guwaach,
Doojey Dang Di Lag Gayi,
Janey Khaney Nuu Lag

With the first snake-bite;
charmers lost their spell
The second bite turned all and sundry,
into snakes, as well

Laagaan Keeley Lok Moonh,
Bas Phir Dang Hi Dang,
Palo Palee Punjab Dey,
Neeley Pay Gaye Ang

Drinking from this deadly stream,
filling the land with bane
Slowly, Punjab’s limbs have turned black
and blue, with pain

Galeyon Tutey Geet Phir,
Takaleyon Tuti Tand,
Trinjanon Tutiyaan Saheliyan,
Charakhrrey Ghuukar Band

The street-songs have been silenced;
cotton threads are snapped
Girls have left their playgroups;
the spinning wheels are cracked

Saney Saij Dey Beriyan,
Luddan Ditiyaan Rohrr,
Saney Daliyan Peengh Ajj,
Piplaan Diti Torr

Our wedding beds are boats,
their logs have cast away
Our hanging swing,
the Pipal tree has broken in disarray

Jithey Wajdi Si Phook Pyar Di,
Wey Oh Wanjhli Gayi Guwaach
Raanjhey Dey Sab Weer Ajj,
Bhul Gaye Ohdi Jaach

Lost is the flute, which once,
blew sounds of the heart
Ranjha’s brothers, today,
no longer know this art

Dharti Tey Lahoo Warsiya,
Qabraan Paiyan Chon,
Preet Diyan Shahzadiyan,
Ajj Wich Mazaaraan Ron

Blood rained on our shrines;
drenching them to the core
Damsels of amour, today,
sit crying at their door

Ajj Sabhey ‘Qaido’ Ban Gaye,
Husn Ishq Dey Chor
Ajj Kithon Liyaiye Labh Ke
Waris Shah Ikk Hor

Today everyone is, ‘Qaido’
thieves of beauty and ardor
Where can we find, today,
another Warish Shah, once more

Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nuu,
Kiton Qabraan WichoN Bol,
Tey Ajj Kitaab-e-Ishq Da,
Koi Agla Warka Phol

Today, I call Waris Shah,
“Speak from inside your grave”
And turn, today,
the book of love’s next affectionate page


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Amrita Pritam (31 August 1919 – 31 October 2005) was an Indian writer and poet, who wrote in Punjabi and Hindi. She is considered the first prominent woman Punjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, and the leading 20th-century poet of the Punjabi language, who is equally loved on both sides of the India-Pakistan border. With a career spanning over six decades, she produced over 100 books of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs and an autobiography that were translated into several Indian and foreign languages. 

A Pakistani TV Series titled “Ghughi”(available on Youtube), based on Amrita’s Pinjar was launched on January 25, 2018 at 8 pm Pakistan Standard Time. In 2004, the movie Pinjar, featuring Manoj Bajpayee and Urmila Matondhkar, won the National Film Award for Best Feature Film on National Integration. On May 7, 2007, an album of Gulzar’s recitation of Amrita Pritam’s poetry was released in Mumbai. One of those renditions can be hear here.

Some of the other works of Amrita Pritam can be read here –

The Cellar (A short Story)

The Weed (A short story)

I will meet you again (A poem)

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