“Main Tenu Phir Milangi”, the serene and calming lyrics of Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi poetry evoke a wide range of feelings in everyone. Though the lines are said to have been penned for Imroz, her partner with whom she spent the final forty years of her life, they appear to be speaking to everyone who has fallen in love with Amrita and her poems.
Amrita was more than simply an essayist, novelist, and poet; she was a woman who broke all social norms and created her own identity as if she were the embodiment of the revolution.
On the occasion of her birth anniversary, let us recollect some of her life’s little-known aspects:
Amrit Kaur, born in 1919 in Mandi Bahauddin, Punjab (modern-day Pakistan), lost her mother when she was eleven years old. Amrita began writing at a young age, rejecting adult duties and afflicted by loneliness in the aftermath of her mother’s death, and published her first collection of poetry, Amrit Lehren (Immortal Waves) in 1936, at the age of 16.
It was the same year she married Pritam Singh (son of a hosiery trader in Lahore’s Anarkali bazaar), with whom she had been engaged since childhood, and renamed herself Amrita Pritam.
Few people are aware that her father, Kartar Singh Hitkari was a poet himself. He was also a Braj Bhasha language scholar and an editor, as published by Feminist Press in 1991.
Amrita and her poems were drawn to and influenced by the lyrics of poet and lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi. She’d been in love with him for years, and she’d written about it in her memoirs. Long silences, intense gazes, and silent yearnings were hallmarks of love with Ludhianvi. They frequently corresponded to one another, but never completely crossed the gap that held them apart, Ludhianvi being what we would call a ‘commitment-phobe’ today.
In her final letter to Sahir, which she personally handed to him, she wrote: “Maine toot ke pyaar kiya tum se/Kya tumne bhi utna kiya mujh se?”
India’s independence in 1947 came at a high cost of division and communal bloodshed. Amrita, 28, too had to become a Punjabi refugee and relocated from Lahore to Delhi. The same year, when pregnant and traveling from Dehradun to Delhi, she wrote a poem, Ajj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu, on her feelings over the partition.
Amrita was also a strong believer of Osho, and she authored several introductions to his works, including Ek Onkar Satnam.
She climbed from humble beginnings to become a major literary icon not just in Punjabi and English, but in many other languages into which her writings were translated. For her magnum opus, Sunehre, a lengthy poem, she was the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Award (Messages). She later earned the Bharatiya Jnanpith, India’s highest literary prize.
For all of her fans and lovers, Pritam left a rich and memorable legacy. Even though she is no longer physically here with us, the following phrase from her is a healing salve for Imroz, for us, and for literature…
“Main tenu phir milangi..”