An Epistolary Trail... Few selections from Khaton ka Safarnama (Amrita Pritam & Imroz’s correspondence)

Sudeshna Chakravorty

Translated from Hindi to English by Sudeshna Chakravorty


Letter 1

Amrita’s letter (29.03.1962):

Jeeti,

What kind of a road is my life?

All the milestones here are made up of accidents.

When you were here- there was no house.

Now that there is a house- you are not.

The distance measured by miles is very little, but one small seal- that of legal recognition- turns into the distance separating two worlds.

A strange anxiety grips me and it feels as if this restlessness is as long as my life—or maybe this restlessness is the actual moniker for my life.

(90)

 

Letter 2

Imroz’s letter, Feb 1961 (p-86)

...

I have just returned after seeing off Avatar at the Station.

Received your letter, my eyes immediately lowered, the man bowed down, the man’s pride too.

Everything inside me is bent over, crying, right now.

And the only thing I wish for at this moment, may these eyes keep getting lowered like this, may this man and everything he has or is, bows down for ever, gets annihilated...

Your wound, my own darkness

Jeeti

(written during the period 1960-1963, when Amrita was miffed with Imroz, as he had earlier gone off to Bombay to pursue a career in films. Though he did not stay long, Amrita’s fear of losing him to tinsel town, as she had lost Sahir Ludhianwi, caused her to be cold and distant with him for some time. Amrita’s awareness of being 7 years older to Imroz also led to her attempts at staying away, for she felt Imroz should have the opportunity of meeting and knowing women closer to his age, and settle down to conventional domesticity. But that, of course, was not to be.)

 

Letter 3

Amrita’s letter (27.4.65)

 

Jeeti,

Something seems amiss today, Jeeti, Time seems to have come to a standstill.

It is ten in the morning now. Anytime now, the post will come in- then the time will start ticking again.

Avatar is visiting.

Last night Avatar, Sally, Kandla and me watched a movie- ‘My Fair Lady’.

I really wish I could have seen this film with you.

Jeeti, whether or not your film ever gets made, whether or not your paintings are ever put on exhibition...irrespective of whether your inner talent and beauty comes before the masses, via the screen or your canvases- but I will always admire and salute that depth and beauty residing within you.

My sole friend, no one has truly ‘known’ me in this whole world, except you. And the satisfaction of being understood by you, far overrides any complaints of being misunderstood by everyone else.

Just now, Avatar was telling me that Bedi sahib [filmmaker Rajinder Singh Bedi] goes around telling everyone that Amrita only understands and loves money; she measures everything and everyone on pecuniary grounds alone.

Please do burst out laughing on reading this.

People are so superficial and hypocritical!

I did not think Bedi to be like this. I used to feel that he understood human nature better, his beliefs and viewpoints were different.

But everything is superficial.

Hardly anyone understands the pride and satisfaction that comes with being able to earn through one’s labours.

People believe in grants and doles, and in free-loading. Both of these are just thinly veiled forms of ‘loot’/thievery- lacking the dignity inherent in ‘earnings’.

Those people who take pride in earning, hardly ever bring those other words on their lips.

Taking the just payment for one’s hard work, and paying out the same—both originate from the same mindset. But unfortunately, many people have a lop-sided belief—they are more than happy to take, but unwilling to pay.

I have chosen the word ‘pay’ as opposed to ‘give’, deliberately, so that it does not give off the odour of ‘charity’. Dole/charity is most pejorative, it reeks foul; but ‘earning’-now that spreads sweet fragrance.

Lots of love to your fragrant hands.

Maaja.

[context: Filmmaker Rajinder Singh Bedi had asked Amrita Pritam to compose a lyric for his film Raano, and promised to pay her five hundred rupees for her services. Amrita completed the song and sent it to Mr. Bedi as per their agreement; but even after the passage of considerable time, Amrita did not receive her payment. When she let this fact be known to some people, Mr. Bedi started bad mouthing her and painting her in unflattering colours.]

 

Letter 4

Amrita’s Letter (24.4.67) (p-118)

...

Have received an invitation to visit Germany for a week. Will finalise the dates, once I reach Belgrade. There’s another invite too, from Tehran, sent via our Embassy; for a three-day stop. But am undecided—after all, the travelling will become very long-drawn...

Maaja.

 

Letter 5

Imroz’s letter (23.8.67) (p-119)

Maaja,

Please entrust all the household responsibilities to us for these three months.

These three months are meant for Amrita to be with Amrita- that Amrita who is exclusively a writer- wholly and uninterruptedly, a writer.

Bhopi [Amrita’s daughter Kandla] is just as she was- very sweet. And in this uncle of Bhopi’s, now a part of her mother too is merged. This merging of selves, this feeling of belonging, of involvement, is quite new; the first experience of its kind.

Like Jeeti, I work the whole day; and like you- I stay at home, the whole day. For the house- and for my two daughters.

Each one of my letters will raise a toast to your name.

Yours

Jeeti.

 

Letter 6 (last letter in the collection)

Amrita’s. (04.01.76) (p-215)

My Ima,

If you— the way you think, the person that you are- had you not existed, then tell me, where could I have gone? How would I be?

And now, Please just come back home, soon.

Yours

Maaja.

 

Translator’s Note:

“All the world loves a lover!”—and the love story of Amrita Pritam and Imroz is one of the rare real life love-stories that is more awe-inspiring and heart-warming than most fables and fairy-tales.

The fiery, out-spoken, immensely talented and unapologetically authentic Amrita Pritam (born Amrit Kaur) was an artist, and person, far ahead of her times. Her poems, novels and other creative outputs broke new grounds in the vernacular literature scene of her times; and the unconventional way she chose to conduct her personal life drew scandals and admiration, alike. For this particular article, however, I have chosen to focus (through the above translations) more on her personal life; or rather on works that are at once a fascinating insight into a very inspiring relationship and also a glimpse at the mind and thought-process of the public figure- the Amrita Pritam who authored such forceful works like Pinjar, Kagaz te Canvas (novels), Ajj aakhaan waris Shah nu or Sunehade (poems) and the very evocative autobiography Raseedi Ticket.

Married off at an early age to an incompatible partner, Amrita fell in love with the noted urdu poet Sahir Ludhianwi and took the bold step of walking away from her unhappy legal union with Pritam Singh (though the official divorce came much later). Her relationship with the charishmatic Sahir too, however, was cause more for loneliness and heartbreak; as she lost him to the glitz of the (then) Bombay Film world. It was at this vulnerable juncture of her life that a professional requirement brought her face to face with the talented painter (and poet, in his own rights), Imroz.

What followed was a union that braved everything- from a big age difference (Imroz being seven years younger), to the demons and baggage of past relationships (Amrita’s) and the absence of any legal recognition- to last for close to five decades. Though the couple never married, they lived together in Amrita’s Hauz Khas residence till her demise in 2005. Even decades after her death, the bond remained strong as ever, as Imroz channelized all his memories of Amrita into his poetry:

“tere saath jiye

saare khubsurat din raat

ab mere naghmein

bante ja rahein hai”

 

(“...the beautiful days and nights

I spent with you

Are now becoming

My songs”)

 (‘Imroz, the abiding love in Amrita Pritam's life’. Hindustan Times 31st Aug. 2018).

 

Poet, novelist, lyricist, Dr. Uma Trilok, a friend of both Amrita and Imroz, collected many of the letters that this extraordinary duo wrote to each other, translated them from the original Punjabi, and published them in book form as Khaton ka Safarnama. The first letter in this collection is one by Imroz, dated 2nd October 1959, where he addresses Amrita as his own (‘meri apni’). But this salutation is not that of a man declaring proprietorship over the woman in his life, but an acknowledgement of the affinity of understanding and emotions between them. He begins by praising her solid command over language (‘pukhta zubaan likhne wali’) and her unconventional thinking (‘anokha sochna wali’), goes on to urge her to give up on ‘fear, and ‘shame, as they do not suit her personality (‘tumhare sath darr aur saham jaise lafz lage hue ache nahi lagte’) and offers himself to her, heart and soul (‘meri saari intensity, meri saari dhadkane tum samet lo’). The future (‘mustakbil’) that he calls her to is not one of willing secondarity of a woman to her man, as is conventionally expected and accepted; but of mutual admiration and care. There is no sense of entitlement in his words, and he signs of the letter as someone intensely aware of his fate hanging in balance, awaiting his lady love’s all-important consent (‘kismat ka intezaar kar raha’). This letter, in many ways sets the tone of all the letters to follow; and is defining of their relationship too. The letters that follow, capture myriad moods- the restlessness brought about by distance, the uncertainty and pain of negotiating an unconventional relationship, without legal sanction, in extremely conservative times; lovers’ tiffs- they all find their place. At the same time, these letters are testimony to the comfort shared by the two artists, the shared confidences, the constant encouragement and admiration and support that served as the bed rock of this union.

Keeping in mind the space constraints that any academic writing has, I had to be very prudent as to which few letters to choose to translate from the scores they exchanged (and were consequently documented by Dr. Trilok). And I chose those letters which I feel best showcase the two individuals and the dynamics of their extraordinary relationship. The first letter I have translated shows the vulnerable side of the fiery Amrita, who is pining for Imroz, as well as ruminating on the emotional price extracted from women daring to live on their own terms, in our society.

The third letter I have translated, is one that Amrita wrote to Imroz when she was disturbed by rumours being spread about her as being greedy and money-minded. The true story, as the letter reveals, however, was that Amrita was being deprived of her rightful earnings. I chose this letter because I feel it illustrates very well the way women’s labour is devalued in patriarchal cultures/societies. Women’s labour, whether outside the home or inside, is always seen as either a ‘labour of love’ or ‘duty’ that they are bound to do without expecting any returns; or at best much inferior to a ‘man’s’ work and hence to be paid meagrely or not at all. This intensely personal letter, confiding in the man she loved, thus becomes a social document, as well as a testimony of the clarity and originality of Amrita’s thoughts regarding these issues, despite the conservative surroundings she lived in.

But while her surroundings may have been stifling and conservative, the man in her life, the recipient of these epistles, definitely was not. The second of the letters which I have translated is testimony to this. Written in response to an emotional and mildly accusing letter by Amrita, when she was miffed with him and in her fear of losing him, was pushing him away even more- Imroz displays immense poise, grace, love and understanding. There is no anger in his words, no flexing of the wounded male pride; but a warm acknowledgement of his muse’s pain and a confession of how her pain was hurting him as well. In a culture of toxic masculinity, where to express one’s softer emotions is considered ‘unmanly’ to say the least- here we see a man mature and emotionally intelligent enough to not only understand his partner’s feelings, but to reveal his own vulnerability, in a very natural manner.

This paved the way for their later interactions, and the comfort that grew between them. As the fourth piece of my translations above, I have chosen a very short and ‘homely’ letter where Amrita talks of her worries about leaving the house and daughter unattended for long; even while her heart wishes to fly from country to country, to soak in new experiences, to gather inspiration for her creative pursuits. Imroz responds with the assurance of taking up every responsibility (letter 5 above). Not only does it lack any trace of rancour or of bestowing a ‘favour’ on her; but rather is a very poetic expression of his glee at getting this opportunity of being included in the everyday business of Amrita’s life.

Authors,artists, doctors, business person- whatever be the profession-we all need support from our closest ones in our journey to excellence; or that just becomes an added battle to fight. Amrita’s talent and creativity are definitely her own; but much of what she ultimately achieved and became is definitely because of Imroz, the man who continues to speak of her in the present tense, more than a decade after her demise.

And in the last letter that I have translated for this article, which is also the last letter in Trilok’s compendium, Amrita acknowledges the same, in no uncertain words- “tumhare jaisi soch, tumhare jaisi shakshiyat agar iss duniya mein nahi hoti, toh tumhi batao, kaha jaati mai.” The letter ends with a simple request, that he come back home to her soon. Posterity knows that he did, and stayed on- caring for Amrita till the last days of her life, and beyond.

 

Works Cited:

Trilok, Uma. Trans. & Ed. Khaton ka Safarnama. New Delhi: Hind Pocket Books. (2011) 2018.

Kumar, Manoj. ‘Imroz, the Abiding Love in Amrita Pritam’s Life.’ Hindustan Times (Chandigarh). 31.08.2018. 
***

Bionote: Sudeshna Chakravorty is currently working as Assistant professor of English, Susil Kar College, Champahati (affiliated to the University of Calcutta). She is a member of the Editorial Board of Sarvodaya: A Journal of Human Development, the in-house interdisciplinary ISSN no. awarded journal of Susil Kar College. She has chaired sessions at conferences, most recent of them being at the International Conference on Emergence of Globalisation: Towards Transnationalism organised by the ISCS in February 2017. She has presented papers at several National and International Seminars and Conferences, She is a Life member of the Shakespeare Society of India and the Jadavpur University Society for American Studies (JUSAS) and makes regular contributions to the latter’s seminars, workshops. She has acted as Resource Person in several of their seminars, most recently at a colloquium at the 20th Anniversary Seminar in March 2017. Her areas of interest include Gender Studies, Folklore and Culture Studies.


2 comments :

  1. Immensely enjoyed reading through your translated letters, Sudeshna. An intimate journey into two loving, throbbing hearts.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Unstoppable reading! The translations are very satisfying. The other details have enhanced in knowing both Amrita and Imroz.Such wonderful persons! Simply touching.

    ReplyDelete

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