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Amrita Pritam

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Name – Amrita Pritam

D.O.BO. – 31 August 1919

Father’s Name – Kartar Singh Hitkari

Spouse – Pritam Singh

 


 

Early Life

Amrita Pritam was born in Gujranwala in Punjab (now in Pakistan) on 31st August, 1919. She was the only child to Kartar Singh Hitkari who was a school teacher and a scholar. Her father was also a Sikh preacher and the editor of a literary journal. After her mother's death in 1930, when she was eleven, Amrita and her father moved to Lahore where she lived until her migration to Delhi in 1947. The early demise of her mother left her in a state of isolation and saw her handling many adult-like responsibilities at a very young age. This led her to writing poetry as a young girl. She started her literary career as a romantic poet. Her leanings towards romance can be seen in 'Amrit Lehren' (Immortal Waves) in 1936. When she was sixteen, Amrita married Pritam Singh, an editor to whom she was engaged to when she was a child.

 

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Career

Once she started writing in 1936, she prolifically continued composing several poems and had published six collections of poems by 1943. Initially she used to write romantic poems though she gradually became attracted to the Progressive Writers’ Movement, a literary movement in the pre-partition British India and became a part of it. In 1944, her poetry collection ‘Lok Peed’ (People’s Anguish) was published in which she criticized the war-torn economy in the aftermath of the Bengal famine of 1943. She was developing into a bold writer who expressed herself freely without any fear of the consequences. She became involved in social work in the mid-1940s and worked with the Lahore Radio Station for a while.

She witnessed unspeakable horrors in front of her eyes when the partition of India took place in 1947. More than one million people—Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus—died horrible deaths in the communal riots. Amrita, a young woman of 28 somehow escaped getting killed, but her soul was shattered in the experience. Being a Punjabi refugee she moved to New Delhi from Lahore and struggled to rebuild her life. Stuck in a meaningless marriage, weary of heart and pregnant, she poured out her feeling in the form of the poem ‘Ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu’ in 1948, invoking the Sufi poet Waris Shah. In 1950, she wrote the novel ‘Pinjar’ (Skeleton) in which she wrote of the plight of the women during the partition. The novel describes the helplessness felt by the women of that era when subjected to indifference at the hands of their own families. The novel was later adapted into an award winning Hindi film of the same name. She worked in the Punjabi service of All India Radio, Delhi till 1961. It was during the 1960s that she clearly became more feminist in her writings. Her later works include ‘Kaal Chetna’ (Time Consciousness), ‘Agyat Ka Nimantran’ (Call of the Unknown), ‘Kala Gulab’ (Black Rose), ‘Rasidi Ticket’ (The Revenue Stamp), and ‘Aksharon kay Saayee’ (Shadows of Words).

 

Personal Life

She was betrothed in childhood to Pritam Singh, the son of a hosiery merchant. He grew up to be an editor and they were married in 1936. The couple had two children. The marriage was a troubled one and she left her husband in 1960. She was said to have been in love with the poet Sahir Ludhianvi and had written about him in her autobiography, ‘Rasidi Ticket’ (Revenue Stamp). She developed a long term relationship with the famous artist and writer Imroz with whom she lived for the last 40 years of her life.

 

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Death

Amrita Pritam, after a long drawn illness, breathed her last in New Delhi on 31st October, 2005.

 

Awards

1956 - Sahitya Akademi Award

1969 - Padma Shri

1982 - Bharatiya Jnanpith

2004 - Padma Vibhushan

 

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