Wednesday, Dec 01, 2021
First Person

Love, Poems, Ashes

On Sahir and Imroze ... and herself...

Love, Poems, Ashes
Love, Poems, Ashes

The Last Letter ('Aakhiri Khat') I wrote for Sahir was to be published as a book, for which I needed an illustrator. I thought some parts of it should be illustrated ...

[...] And then one day Devender brought along an illustrator [who used to work for Shama] to illustrate Last Letter.

Last Letter was published in Punjabi [Gurumukhi] as well as in Hindi [Devnaagri] but both these languages were silenced as they could not reach Sahir for whom this last letter was written...

Shama was a monthly and those days the same group had also launched a magazine called Aainaa. I got the Last Letter published there in the hope that it might cross his eyes...

After that there was silence ... nothing else.

I learnt it many years later, from Sahir himself: 'When I read the Last Letter in Aaina, I immediately felt like running to Abbas's house, to Krishna Chander's house, and to other friends' as well, to tell them that this letter is written for me, is written in my name. But I remained silent. I thought, if I say this, the friends would mock: 'Yeah, yeah, it's written for you, come son, let's take you to the lunatic asylum.'

It was such a silence from Sahir that all the years of my life could not comprehend, and perhaps he too was incapable of understanding this silence.

[....] Then suddenly one day Imroze (those days he was called Inderjeet, illustrator) came to visit me in the afternoon from his office. Very happy. he had received a letter from film director Guru Dutt in Bombay, offering him work in his films. The salary on offer was good, boarding and lodging was taken care of and the artist was happy...

I was happy that he had wished to share this appreciation for his art with me first. God knows that at a conscious level I did not see any thing linked with him, but at that time it felt as if something was slipping from my grasp...Once the same Bombay had taken Sahir from me, and now the same Bombay, for the second time...

I could not understand the mystery of this 'second time'. Only destiny knew it...

(from Rasiidi Ticket)


Sahir too met Imroze with me. He was sad the first time. We sat and drank together, but our empty glasses remained on his table for some time. That night he wrote a poem - "mere saathii khaalii jaam ...[empty glasses are my companions...]" - which he read out to me at around 11 at night on the phone. He said he was pouring and drinking whisky from the three glasses, by turn. But during our second meeting in Bombay, Imroze had fever and Sahir immediately sent his doctor for treatment...

(from Rasiidi Ticket)


I had heard of the word 'magic' in childhood stories, but then it suddenly entered my body, and started growing in the folds of the flesh of my own body... This was sometimes in the last days of 1946. I had read in newspapers and books that the pictures and photographs in the room of an expectant mother, or her own imagination, could shape the face of her baby. And my imagination, surreptitiously whispered in my ear: 'If I visualise Sahir's face all the time, my baby's face would be like his...' What I had not got in life, I knew, or perhaps it was an endeavour to get it miraculously...

An endeavour to be the creator like God...
An independent act by the body...
Free not just of the inculcated values, but also of the reality of blood and flesh...

In this crazed state, when the baby was born on July 3, 1947 and I saw its face for the first time, I was convinced of being God, and along with the developing face of the baby, my imagination too kept growing that it face perhaps actually resembled Sahir's.

Anyway, one cannot stand on the edge of madness, there should be ground beneath for the feet to rest on, so in the ensuing years I would mention it like a fairy-tale...

Once I narrated this to Sahir, mocking myself. I don't know about his other reaction, but I do know that on hearing it, he began to laugh, and he only said: "Very poor taste".

The biggest complex of Sahir's life is that he is not good looking, which is why he called it my poor taste. [ ... ]

Then many years passed. When I came to Bombay in 1960, Rajinder Singh Bedi was my benevolent friend. We'd often meet. One evening, as we sat talking, he asked, "I once heard Prakash Pandit say that Navraj is Sahir's son..."

That evening I told the story of my crazed state to Bedi Saheb and said, "It is the truth of imagination, not the truth of reality"

Around the same time, Navraj asked me—he was then some 13 years old. "Mama, if I ask you something, would you tell me the truth?"


"Am I Sahir uncle's son?"


"But if I am, tell me. I like Sahir uncle"

"Yes, son, I like him too, but if this were the truth, I would certainly have told you."

The truth has its own power, so my son was convinced.

I think the truth of the imagination was not small, but it was only for much that it was not the truth even for Sahir.

(from Rasiidi Ticket)


You who catch shadows!
The fire that burns in the heart
Has no shadow...

(epigram on her autobiography, Rasidi Ticket) 


In 1990 when Jalandhar Doordarshan made a documentary on me, they asked me to say something about my relationship with Sahir and Imroze. I said at that time:

There is only one relationship in the world—of feverish disquietude and the sobs of separation, of Shahnai, which can be heard even in the sobs of separation—and that very relationship I had with Sahir and have with Imroze. It was love for Sahir when I wrote:

Again I remembered you: 
Again I kissed the flame
Love may well be the cup of poison
Again I asked for a mouthful

And in the face of Imroze I saw the extremity of sensitivity. It was a mad passion which made me say:

kalam ne aj toRayaa giitaaN daa kaafiyaa
ishq meraa pahuchiyaa eh keRe mukaam te
uTh apne ghaRe choN paanii daa kaul de
dho lavaaNgii baiTh ke raahNvaa de haadse

The pen today broke the rhyme of the song
Which destination has my love reached now
Get up, give me a cupful of water from your pitcher
I will sit and wash away the misfortunes of passage

(from aksharoN ke saaye)


Whenever Sahir would visit me in Lahore, it was as if a part of my own silence would sit on a chair and go away. He would just quietly smoke a cigarette, stub out the half-smoked cigarette in the ash-tray, and then light a fresh one. Once he was gone, only large, half-smoked cigarettes would remain in the room.

Sometimes ... once, I wished to touch his hands, but my upbringing created a distance that could not be bridged. Even then the wonders of imagination came to my aid.

After he had gone, I would gather all those cigarette stubs and put them away in the almirah. And then I'd sit and light them one by one; when I held them between my fingers, it seemed as if I was touching his hand.

This is how I got addicted to smoking. Whenever I lit a cigarette, it seemed as if he was nearby. He would appear like a djinn in the cigarette smoke.

Then many years later, I wrote about this in my novel "ek thii anita", but Sahir perhaps still doesn't know the history behind my cigarette-smoking.

(from Rasiidi Ticket)


Amrita Pritam

ik dard si...
jo cigarette di tarah
maiN chup chaap piitaa hai
sirf kuchh nazmaaN han
jo cigarette de naal maiN
raakh vaagan jhaaRiyaaN

There was a pain
That like cigarettes
I inhaled quietly
Just a few poems remain
That I flicked along
With ash from the

(undated poem, from Amrita Pritam, Shairii)

(Copy right: Amrita Pritam. Hurried translation by Sundeep Dougal)


Outlook Newsletters


Read More from Outlook

How Parag Agrawal Obsessively Focused On Controlling Hate Speech As Twitter CTO

How Parag Agrawal Obsessively Focused On Controlling Hate Speech As Twitter CTO

After taking over as CTO of Twitter, Parag Agrawal’s main focus was on using AI and ML to identify hate speech and bots that were used to spread misinformation through the microblogging site.

'Omicron Virus' Or 'South Africa Variant'? Here's What Not To Call New Covid-19 Strain

'Omicron Virus' Or 'South Africa Variant'? Here's What Not To Call New Covid-19 Strain

The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has led to several discussions on WHO's method of naming virus variants on Greek alphabets. But terms like 'South Africa virus' have remained in use.

IPL 2022 Retention: Who Stays And Who Goes - Full List

IPL 2022 Retention: Who Stays And Who Goes - Full List

IPL Retention list was replete with full of expected names but there were some big omissions too. The mega auction will have a massive pool of stars that teams can now choose from.

Kashmir: Why Is BJP Predicting Doomsday For J&K 2 Years After Article 370 Abrogation

Kashmir: Why Is BJP Predicting Doomsday For J&K 2 Years After Article 370 Abrogation

The statement, issued by senior BJP leader of J&K Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, raises concern for minorities living in Kashmir Valley.