August 05, 2021
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A translation of the excerpt from her autobiography, Rasidi Ticket in which she talks about what she is primarily known for - her famous poem on Partition: Waris Shah.

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One could not even have imagined the bloody episode that unfolded at the time of Partition of our country.

People were tired of narrating the tales of their travails which would not end in their lifetime. I had seen corpses. I had seen people who had become living corpses. After leaving Lahore, I had taken refuge in Dehradoon, I began working and came to Delhi looking for a place to stay in. On the way back, in the moving train, sleep eluded me.

Outside the train, the darkness was like the history of time. The wind rustled as if weeping, sitting by the side of history. Tall trees seemed to have sprouted as high as the troubles. Where there were no trees, there was a deserted desolation, and the hillocks in that desert seemed not like hillocks but like graves.

Verses from Waris Shah were haunting my mind: 'bhala mo'e te bichhRe kaun mele.. [who can bring back the dead and the lost ones...?]'. Waris Shah was such a great poet, which is why he could sing the grief of Heer. Who would today sing the grief of not one, but tens of thousands of the weeping daughters of Punjab? I could not think of anyone else whom I could address that question to.

That night, in the moving train, with a trembling pen, I wrote this poem:

aaj aakhaN waris shah nuuN, kitoN kabraaN vichchoN bol,
te aaj kitab-e ishq daa koii aglaa varkaa phol

ik roii sii dhii punjaab dii, tuuN likh likh maare vaen,
aaj lakhaaN dhiiaaN rondiaa, tainuN waris shah nuN kahen

uTh dardmandaaN diaa dardiaa, uth takk apnaa punjaab
aaj bele lashaaN bichhiaaN te lahu dii bharii chenab


I ask Waris Shah today to speak up somewhere from the graves
And to turn to a new page of the book of love

Once, when one daughter of Punjab wept, you had hit out by writing
Today a million daughters weep and implore you, Waris Shah:

Arise, O friend of the distressed! Arise, see the plight of your Punjab
Corpses lie strewn in the fields and Chenab is filled with blood


After some time, this poem was published and it reached Pakistan as well. A little later, when Faiz Ahmed Faiz's book was published, Ahmed Naseem Qasmi mentioned in its introduction that Faiz had read the introduction when he was jail. When he was released and got out of the jail, he found that even then people would carry this poem in their pockets, would take it out to read and weep...

Then, when I went to London in 1972, I was introduced to Pakistani poetess Sahaab Kazalbash. Her first words were: "Arre, so this is Amrita who wrote that poem Warish Shah... I have to hug her.."

One evening, in London itself, there was a gathering at the house of Surinder Kochhar. Sahab Kazalbash was there, and so were other literary figures from Pakistan - Saqi Faruqi, Fahmida Riaz and Abdullah Hussain, the author of Udaas Naslen, as well as the famous singers from Pakistan: Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali. The night was filled with poetry. When Nazakat Ali was asked to sing, he said he did not have his musical instruments, and had never sung without those, but he added, "But for the one who wrote Waris Shah, we'd sing without instruments." And the night was drenched in the melodious voice of Nazakat Ali.

In 1975, when the Pakistani littérateur from Multan, Mashqur Saabri visited Delhi on the occasion of Urs, he told me that for the past many years now, in Multan, a 'jashn-e-warish shah' (celebration of Waris Shah) is celebrated which includes exhibitions of folk-arts, folk songs as well as a musharia. This celebration always commences with my poem Waris Shah. On a 100' x 80' stage, an elaborate set is made which includes Ranjha's forest and Heer's destination as well. The poem is sung for about 25 minutes. The stage is absolutely shrouded in darkness and then smoke is shown billowing up in a spotlight, and then Waris Shah rises from the grave... Famous singers from Pakistan sing each verse, and in accordance thereto, the scenes on the stage keep changing...and when the poem comes to its last part, such a loud echo is created as if the whole of creation is filled with love and happiness...

But when this poem was written, many publications and magazines were filled with accusations against me. The Sikhs objected as to why this poem was addressed to Warish Shah, when it should have been addressed to Guru Nanak. The communists objected as to why it wasn't addressed to Lenin or Stalin. So much so that many poems were written against this poem.

Hurried translation by Sundeep Dougal from Pg 23-25 of Rasidi Ticket, Copyright, Amrita Pritam.

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