Remembering Amrita Pritam

Noted Punjabi writer and literary personality Amrita Pritam passed away last month. She was born at Gujranwala in 1919 – birthplace of legendary poet Waris Shah and prominent site of the nationalist movement in 1919. Her poetry resonated with the cultural and historical nuances of Punjab. In memory of Amrita Pritam, we carry two poems – one evoking the legacy of the Jallianwala Massacre of 1919, and one on Lenin. Amrita Pritam

Scene 1919

These travails of life,

Compulsions, helplessness,

Shamings and humiliations,

Unfulfilled desires, forced to crawl,

Curses of slavery,

The fate of slaves,

It was a devastation That was borne

A suffering


A poison


A death

That was lived.


In the breast, a flame burns,

From the eyes, tears flow,

Hear hear hear hear

All that this time speaks

All that this time suffers

All that this time speaks

I’m time, a question –

A question asked by the walls

Riddled with bullets

Asked by the cries of

Thousands of souls

These withered faces, these cold corpses

Darkness, darkness

And over the lips

Guns stand guard

These wounded hopes,

These broken voices,

These bloody dawns

And black noons

Come, now come

Light up the dark,

This head will never bend,

Never bend

Before royal kings

Before Emperors

This assertion of youth

The lava bursting from the breast

Now never will stop

Never stop

These walls, these corridors,

These devastated lanes

These lanes

Soaked in sorrows, shaped by sorrows,

And see these lanes –

They’ve set out to raze down the world of slavery.


To Lenin, A Figure From My History


What kind of figure from my history are you?


Stepping out of the calendar my wall,

You change its date daily

And meet me

Like a new day!


When you step out of my calendar

And walk the streets

A sun comes out

And wherever there’s some soft corner

It laughs like a green leaf

And wherever there’s a soiled bit

It grows ashamed.


But this – so natural for you,

Is an unnatural act of history.


History breathes a sigh of relief

When it sits in the past

And is disturbed beyond bearing

When it has to deal with the present

So, for this history’s sake,

When I imprisoned you in a calendar

And sealed it with place and time,

And nailed it down with many isms


But you –

Step out of the calendar on my wall

And yet again change its date,

And new concerns, new freedom in hand,

You meet me like a new day


Your – a new day’s – greatness

Such that a deep corner of my being

Hears one note of your sun

And what, for history, is an unnatural act

But for you, natural,

Becomes natural for me.