, , ,

Please welcome our guest host for today, Punam! – Grace

Hello dVersians! I am Punam (paeansunplugged), your guest host today. As most of you know I am from India but perhaps very few of you know that I am from the state of Punjab. Today I bring to you a whiff of Punjabi poetry (translated in English, of course!)

You may or may not have heard of Amrita Pritam. She was a renowned Punjabi poet, novelist and essayist, feted and awarded for her writing. Born on 31st August in Gujranwala (now in Pakistan), she lived in Lahore till 1947 and shifted to New Delhi after the partition.

Moved by the plight of women, who were raped and brutalized on both sides of the border, she wrote her much acclaimed and poignant poem “Today I invoke Waris Shah”. I am sharing two excerpts from it below.

“Rise! O narrator of the grieving, rise and look at you own Punjab

Fields are covered with corpses today and blood flows in the river Chenab”

“This fertile land is sprouting venom from every pore

The skies have turned red from endless cries of gore”

Not only was Pritam known for her political poetry, she was equally known for her feminist poetry. Sample this:


When I entered your bridal chamber

I was not one but two persons

One’s marriage had been consummated and complete

The other had remained a chaste virgin.

To fulfill our union

I had to kill the virgin

And kill her I did!

Such murders are sanctioned by the law

Only the humiliation accompanying them is illegal.

So I drank the poison of humiliation.

Came the dawn

And I saw the blood on my hands

I washed them

Just as I washed off the odours on my body.

But when I saw myself in the mirror

There she was before me;

The same one I had

Murdered during the night.

Oh, God!

Was the bridal chamber so dark

That I could not tell

The one I had slain

From the one I did, in fact, kill.

(Translated by Khushwant Singh)

This is a scathing critique of marital rape in arranged marriages and how law does not recognize it as a criminal offence. Amrita Pritam was not only questioning patriarchal values, she was also redefining gender roles.

She was married off at the age of sixteen. But it was a loveless marriage and she left her husband. She fell in love with a well-known Urdu/Hindi poet and lyricist. They never confessed their love for each other and after a few years moved on. Amrita found love again, moving in with her painter/artist lover and they stayed together, without getting married till her death in 2005.

If this has piqued your interest, you can read more about her here and here and some of her poems here.  I share one more poem here.

That was our tryst, yours and mine

We slept on a bed of stones

And our eyes, lips and fingertips

Became the words of your body and mine

They then made a translation of this first book.   The Rig Veda+ was compiled much later.

For today’s poetics I am sharing five lines from various poems of Amrita Pritam. Use anyone of them as an epigraph, or as a springboard for your verse. Write in a form of your choice. Do mention Amrita Pritam as the source of your inspiration.

  1. When a man denies the power of women, he is denying his subconscious.
  2. Like an offering at the altar of the spirit, our names slipping out of our lips, became a sacred hymn.
  3. (There are) many stories which are not on paper, they are written in the bodies and minds of women.
  4. Perhaps I will become a ray of sunshine, to be embraced by your colours. I will paint myself on your canvas.
  5. Look further on ahead, there between truth and falsehood, a little empty space.
To join us for Tuesday’s Poetics, here’s how to join:

Thank you Punam.   Grace

About our guest host:   Punam is a sailor’s wife and a mother of two teenagers.  She resides in Delhi.  She is a former high school teacher, still in touch with her students.  Besides writing poems, she loves cooking and baking.  Though she hates ironing, she finds it therapeutic.