Amrita Pritam, we all know, is one of our most celebrated writers of 20th century. She can be counted among few lucky ones who achieved status of a legend in her life time. Her creative expression as a poet and fiction writer, broadly speaking, was agonisingly triggered by the holocaust that followed the Partition of the Punjab and the anguish born by her existential experience as a woman. The former catapulted her to stardom when she composed her elegiac poem on the Partition: “Aj aakhan Wais Shah nu” and later made her much sought-after romantic female icon.

Her well-known book “Amrita di Diary” (Amrita’s Diary), transliterated by Maqsood Saqib from Gurmukhi script, has recently been published by Suchet Kitab Ghar, Lahore. The diary is a very readable document that provides insights into inner working of a creative writer and angst of a conscious woman in a tradition-ridden society which she exposes with a flourish. Her defiance of restrictive socio-cultural norms as a bold woman is a visible source of inspiration for men and women who uphold the ideal of non-repressive, non-discriminatory society. “Why do I write? In my view it’s a journey of self to go beyond one’s self. Reaching to such a point firstly entails the discovery of I. Later it encompasses You and eventually in it enters That which is the world”, she writes. It sounds like something from Vedanta and Sufism as well as dialectical. The notes in the diary are of diverse hues. She seems to be forthcoming as she talks about her family and its problems, her interaction with men, her amorous liaisons, her unending search for human love, her comments, appreciatory and critical, on writers from different cultures and above all her search and assertion of female identity which connects her with the women of the world. She upholds an overarching concept of universal sisterhood arising out of shared experience of tribulations of being female.

Amrita’s relationship with Sahir Ludhianvi is much talked about and romanticised but unexpectedly she reveals that it proved painfully unfulfilling with its anti-climactic ending. “After years, now I can analyse my friendship with Sahir the way I couldn’t do earlier. My love of Sahir - a ripened fruit in my soul - I sowed its seed in the soil of my life, and watered and nurtured it myself. It was a miracle born of my inner loneliness… a bid to fill my hollow loneliness. But now I can understand that Sahir’s friendship had made my loneliness hollower. And I…when I felt that I wasn’t lonely, I was in fact lonelier”, she writes in 1979.

In her notes she makes an extensive use of dream as a literary technique to share her feelings, emotions and thoughts. Amrita was well-travelled and exposed to international literary and artistic landscapes which enabled her to be an avant-garde Punjabi writer. She had the knack of connecting with all; from powerful Indira Gandhi in Delhi to hapless poet Sara Shagufta in Karachi. Going through her diary one feels that sometime she like most of celebrities appears to be self-obsessed. But a creative writer/artist may be condoned for such a sin.

Amrita’s Diary is a wonderful document. It’s a rewarding and enriching read.

Sabir Zafar is a prolific poet. His latest book of poetry “Khetonki Rekhaon mein” has been published by Rabb Publishers, Karachi. This book comprises thematic poems. Specific themes have always featured in poetry in the past. This book of verses focuses agriculture which has a long history in the Punjab. It’s such an inseparable part of our life that our Punjabi identity becomes suspect if it isn’t somehow directly or indirectly connected with farming and its ethos. Our agriculture helped develop urban life with its surplus resulting in a highly advanced urban civilisation of Harappa. But sadly our farmers and peasants have always been denied the fair share of what they produce.

Sabir Zafar has poetically explored at least three important dimensions of our farming community; its immense productive capability, its exploitation by official and non-official institutions, and natural beauty of countryside with its flora and fauna. He juxtaposes plentiful agricultural production with the producer’s deprivation and poverty of the peasants with expropriators’ opulence.

Since Urdu doesn’t have much of agricultural terminology, Sabir Zafar is compelled to borrow from Punjabi in order to make his expression realistic and powerful. He reminds us that agriculture though neglected is still our life line as it has always been.

Struggle against colonialism has a glorious history in Punjab which is neglected by mainstream in India and Pakistan because of its revolutionary nature which rejects colonial and post-colonial extractive politico-economic and socio-cultural structures. This aspect of the Punjab’s history suffers from utter neglect because of prevalent narrative which is both communal and imagined. The major movement launched for breaking the colonial shackles is known as Ghadri Leher. Since most of its leaders and cardres came from the Sikh community, it’s wrongly conceived as something exclusively associated with Sikhs. The fact is that it’s the revolutionary edge and the praxis of its adherents what scares the Indian and Pakistani elites. Thankfully sizeable literature exists on the Ghadar Movement but not available to the readers in Shahmukhi script. A book titled “Ghadar Leher di Kahani, Ghadri Babian di Zabani”, a serious historical document complied by Chyan Singh Chyan and edited by Maqsood Saqib, has been published by Suchet Kitab Ghar, Lahore.

“An exclusive significance of this book is that it’s from the pen of those who launched this historical revolutionary movement. It isn’t hearsay. It’s an autobiographic narrative, the real account of a rebellion movement”, says Chyan in his preface. The book carries the autobiographical accounts of 17 leaders of the movement. It includes the account by towering revolutionary Baba Sohan Singh Bhakna (1870-1968) who supplied arms and revolutionary literature to the passengers on board the famous ship Comagata Maru which was denied landing on the shores of British Columbia, Canada in 1914. The book is a must for anybody interested in people’s struggle against colonialism. —

Published in Dawn, August 23rd, 2021



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