Gifted Sahir, petite Amrita
Khushwant Singh

Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh

There was a time when I was much taken up by Amrita Pritam. She was fair, petite, pretty, a gifted poet but a poor storyteller. She wrote only in Punjabi and was little known outside Punjab. I took upon myself to translate her works into English so that she could get better known in India and the English-speaking world.

First I translated her novel Pinjar. It was published and went into many editions. Then I translated some of her poems. They were published in the brochure distributed when she was given the Jnanpith Award by Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. I refused to share royalties she earned. The only thing I asked her was to tell me the truth about her love affairs, as many names were associated with her.

When her turn came to telling me about her love life, she mentioned only one name, Sahir Ludhianvi. And that only through an exchange of correspondence. They decided to meet and consummate their relationship.

Sahir came from Bombay to Delhi and booked himself in Claridges Hotel. Amrita went to meet him all prepared to give herself to him. They spent a few hours together but there was no sex. By then Sahir was impotent. I was disappointed by her narration and remarked: "If this was all, I could write your love life behind a postage stamp." She liked my summing up, and her next episode was entitled Raseedee Ticket.

Sahir LudhianviAmrita's version of her affair with Sahir is at variance with Anoop Sandhu's biography of the poet's biography, Life and Love of Sahir Ludhianvi (Chetna Prakashan). Sandhu has done his homework and produced a definitive account of the poet's life and work, profusely illustrated by quotations from his poems in Roman Urdu. It is to be launched on Sahir's 90th birth anniversary on March 8, 2011.

Sahir (magician) was the only son of a prosperous zamindar of Ludhiana through his 11th wife Sardar Begum. This marriage ended in a divorce. Sahir opted to stay with his mother. By the time I met him first in the house of Rafiq and Fatma Zakaria, he had become the topmost lyricist of Hindi films and lived in a nice bungalow in Juhu.

I sensed he was very touchy and could also be rude. He invited us to dine with him. There I met his mother and a young woman, who I gathered was her mother's niece. His mother asked me to persuade her son to cut down on his drinks. I did not risk doing so, as I was sure he would tell me to mind my own business and turn me out of his house.

Poet and warrior

Amrita Pritam
Amrita Pritam

I have published a selection of Gurudev Tagore’s songs and works on many occasions. I have in hand Dilip Kumar Mitra's translation of Tagore's eulogy of Banda Bahadar, who won the fort to get the better of the Mughals in Sirhind. He was later captured and executed in Delhi. I quote a few verses from Mitra’s translation entitled Fallen Hero:

On the land of five rivers;

Braiding tresses of long hair;

Chanting Guru's teachings were steady;

The Sikhs, ruthless, fearless and battle ready;

'Hail Guruji' filled horizon, shouted by everybody;

The newly awakened Sikh;

They did look at the rising sun;

And divine blessings seek;

'Alakh Niranjan,' the chanting got louder;

Shackles were torn;

Naked swords danced in air and all fear gone;

That day Punjab chanted together, 'Alakh Niranjan;'

What a day that was, dear;

Lakhs of people ready to die, all without fear;

Life and death didn't matter;

Soul was full of cheer;

On all the banks of five rivers;

What a day it was, dear;

In Delhi, at the Mughal Palace, the soundly sleeping prince;

Woke up in fear time and again because of the din;

Whose chantings churned the sky at the dead night;

The sky was painted fiery red by whose torch light;

On the land of five rivers;

Did blood of the devout spill and flow like water;

Like thousand birds rushing towards nests;

They embraced death with so much grace;

Thus on the land of five rivers;

The brave hearts shed blood for mother.

Desi angrezee

My wife Savinder is fond of talking in English. Once she was telling her friend Lovely: "Lovely, my son Gagan is ill, ik week da na eat da, na sleep da, bus weep da tey cheek da."

(Contributed by JP Singh Kaka, Bhopal)