Amrita Pritam (31 August 1919 – 31 October 2005) was a prolific Indian novelist, essayist, and poet, known for her literary contributions in both Punjabi and Hindi languages. An eminent figure in Punjabi literature, she was honored with the prestigious 1956 Sahitya Akademi Award. Her extensive body of work encompassed over 100 books, including poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Punjabi folk songs, and an autobiography, all of which were translated into numerous Indian and foreign languages.
Pritam’s enduring legacy is often associated with her poignant poem, “Ajj aakhaan Waris Shah nu” (Today I invoke Waris Shah – “Ode to Waris Shah”). This heartfelt elegy pays tribute to the 18th-century Punjabi poet and serves as an expression of her deep anguish over the horrors of the partition of India.
As a novelist, Amrita Pritam is most renowned for her influential work, “Pinjar” (“The Skeleton”), published in 1950. In this compelling narrative, she introduced the unforgettable character of Puro, a symbol of the violence inflicted upon women, the loss of humanity, and the ultimate surrender to existential fate. “Pinjar” was adapted into an award-winning film in 2003, further cementing her status as a literary luminary.
Amid the tumultuous partition of India in 1947, Amrita Pritam migrated from Lahore to India. Despite this relocation, she continued to maintain her popularity in Pakistan throughout her lifetime, standing shoulder to shoulder with contemporaries like Mohan Singh and Shiv Kumar Batalvi.
Pritam’s magnum opus, a lengthy poem titled “Sunehade,” earned her the 1956 Sahitya Akademi Award, marking her as the first and only woman to receive this honor for a work in the Punjabi language. In 1982, she was bestowed with the prestigious Bharatiya Jnanpith, one of India’s highest literary accolades, for her outstanding contribution to literature through “Kagaz Te Canvas” (“The Paper and the Canvas”).
Throughout her illustrious career, Amrita Pritam garnered several national awards and recognitions. She was honored with the Padma Shri in 1969, followed by the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award, in 2004. In the same year, she received India’s highest literary award, presented by the Sahitya Akademi, known as the Sahitya Akademi Fellowship. This fellowship is reserved for the “immortals of literature” in recognition of their lifetime achievements.
Amrita Pritam’s poetic muse was deeply intertwined with the partition of India, and her verses bore witness to the human suffering, tragedy, and resilience that marked that tumultuous period in history. Her literary contributions continue to inspire and resonate with readers worldwide, leaving an indelible mark on the rich tapestry of Indian literature.