Reading other people’s letters is so much more interesting than reading one’s own, as a droll Oscar Wilde famously said. But these, the love letters of Punjabi poet/writer Amrita Pritam and her partner Imroz, are interesting for reasons apart from the merely voyeuristic. These offer a fascinating insight into the way women perceived themselves just fifty years ago: Pritam was only seven years older than her Imva but it gnawed at her: Indian society was not ready for live-ins and certainly not for live-ins involving a younger man and an older woman.
But how reaffirming to find evidence of selfless passion, uninhibited loving sans ego or pretence! Imroz was Amrita’s lighthouse: forever her beacon and anchor. Never the jealous or envious alpha male; always warm, loving, celebrating his woman, her achievement, their lives together. She, on the other hand, was never afraid to show vulnerability, her need for him. And every utterance evinces quiet respect for Imroz’s talent, his oak-like solidity. Terms like feminist, alternative, rebel, renegade and iconoclast seem sorely inadequate to describe people possessed of such quiet conviction and unassailable dignity.
The intensity this couple shared was not about physical attraction alone, though a robust sensuality informs their entire exchange: there was also a bracing intellectual camaraderie between Imroz and Amrita. It was about a shared love for the written word, the endless possibility of living, even creating a utopia, an idyll where truth, beauty, poetry would prevail. The letters Amrita writes to him from Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Russia and Iran resonate with this and reveal the full-bloodedness of their bond, the multiple layers at which they connected with each other.
One only has to recall the tumult and neurosis that characterised the relationship of the other contemporary literary couple, Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, to realise that all revolutions need not necessarily be strident, clamorous, excessive. Old-fashioned romance never goes out of fashion.