amrita pritam

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I started this project by being inspired by Jamie C. Moore’s work. She photographed her daughter who dressed up as five amazing women who made their mark in history. And so, I decided to do the same and make it around women of the arts. 

As much as we are surrounded by art in every aspect of our life, the arts I believe doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves. From my personal experience at home, the idea of a career in the arts wasn’t a “real” job and was told it would get me nowhere…especially as a women. I wanted to help open up people’s minds and expand the term of what art is. Art isn’t just painting or photography but it can be everything from music to writing to performing. There are tons of unbelievable people in the arts but I chose these eight influential ladies who I feel can empower young girls everywhere.

- Baljit Singh

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AMRITA PRITAM (1919 - 2005) 

A literary legend of Punjab, Amrita Pritam is a true BROWNGIRL inspiration. The great writer produced over 100 books of poems, essays, novels, folk songs and biographies across a career spanning six decades. 

Loved on both sides of the India-Pakistan border, one of her most famous poems was ‘Ajj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu - Today I invoke Waris Shah’ about the anguish she felt for the violence and trauma during the Partition of 1947. 

She became one of the most important voices for Punjabi women and received a number of the highest national awards for her incredible works. 

ਅੱਜ ਆਖਾਂ ਵਾਰਸ ਸ਼ਾਹ ਨੂੰ ਕਿਤੋਂ ਕਬਰਾਂ ਵਿਚੋਂ ਬੋਲ। 
ਤੇ ਅੱਜ ਕਿਤਾਬੇ ਇਸ਼ਕ ਦਾ ਕੋਈ ਅਗਲਾ ਵਰਕਾ ਫੋਲ। 
ਇਕ ਰੋਈ ਸੀ ਧੀ ਪੰਜਾਬ ਦੀ ਤੂ ਲਿਖ ਲਿਖ ਮਾਰੇ ਵੈਣ 
ਅਜ ਲੱਖਾਂ ਧੀਆਂ ਰੌਂਦੀਆਂ ਤੈਨੂ ਵਾਰਸਸ਼ਾਹ ਨੂੰ ਕਹਿਣ: 
ਵੇ ਦਰਦਮੰਦਾਂ ਦਿਆ ਦਰਦੀਆ ਉੱਠ ਤੱਕ ਆਪਣਾ ਪੰਜਾਬ। 
ਅਜ ਬੇਲੇ ਲਾਸ਼ਾਂ ਵਿਛੀਆਂ ਤੇ ਲਹੂ ਦੀ ਭਰੀ ਚਨਾਬ 

Today, I call Waris Shah, “Speak from your grave” And turn, today, the book of love’s next affectionate page Once, a daughter of Punjab cried and you wrote a wailing saga Today, a million daughters, cry to you, Waris Shah Rise! O’ narrator of the grieving; rise! look at your Punjab Today, fields are lined with corpses, and blood fills the Chenab. 

- S

मेरी सारी ज़िन्दगी मुझे ऐसी लगती है
जैसे मैंने तुम्हे एक ख़त लिखा हो।
मेरे दिल की हर धड़कन एक अक्षर है,
मेरी हर साँस जैसे कोई मात्रा,
हर दिन जैसे कोई वाक्य
और सारी ज़िन्दगी जैसे एक ख़त।
अगर कभी यह ख़त
तुम्हारे पास पहुँच जाता,
मुझे किसी भी भाषा के शब्दों की मोहताजी न होती।


My entire life seems like a letter I have written for you.
Each heartbeat a consonant, each breath a vowel, every day like a sentence… And all life- a letter.
If ever, this letter were to reach you,
I won’t have to depend on the words of any language.

—  Amrita Pritam 

I hope you remember Partition forever. 

“Ajj Akhaan Waris Shah Nu”
(Amrita Pritam, an excerpt of her response to the partition of Punjab in 1947. For context: Waris Shah wrote perhaps the most respected version of Heer Ranjha.) 

Ajj akhaan Waris Shah Nu, kithon kabaraan vichon bol.
Te ajj kitaabe ishq da koee agla varkaa phol.
Ik roee si dhi Punjab di, tu likh likh maare vainh
Ajj lakhaan dhiyaan roeeaan, tenu Warish Shah nu kehn
Ve dardmandaan diya dardiya, utt takk apna Punjab.
Ajj bele lashaan vichiyaan te lahu bhari Chenab.

4

Main Tenu Fir Milaan Gi
I will meet you yet again 
Kithey? Kis Tarah? Pata Nai
How and where, I know not
Shayad Terey Takhayul Di Chinag Ban Ke
Perhaps I will become a figment of your imagination
Terey Canvas Tey Utraan Gi
Or maybe on your canvas
Ikk Rahasmayi Lakeer Ban Ke
Spreading myself in a mysterious line
Khamosh Tenu Tak Di Rawaan Gi
I will silently push you along
Yaa Khowrey Sooraj Di Loo Ban Ke
Perhaps I will become a ray of sunshine
Terey Rangaan Wich Ghulaan Gi
I’ll immerse myself in your colours 
Yaa Rangaan Diyan Bahwaan Wich Baith Ke
And embrace them with open arms
Terey Canvas Nuu Walaan Gi
I will paint myself on your canvas
Pata Nai Kiss Tarah? Kithey?
I know not how and where
Par Tenu Zaroor Milaan Gi
But I will meet you for sure.
Yaa Khowrey Ikk Chashma Bani Howaan Gi
Maybe I will turn into a spring
Tey Jeevan Jharneyaan Da Paani Udd-da
And from the watefall of life
Main Paani Diyaan Boondaan
I will rub drops of water
Terey Pindey Tey Malaan Gi
Onto your body
Tey Ikk Thandak Jahi Ban Ke
And rest my coolness
Teri Chaati Dey Naal Lagaan Gi
On your burning chest
Main Hor Kujh Nai Jaandi
I know nothing else
Par Aena Jaandi
But I know this 
Ke Waqt Jo Vii Karey Ga
That despite what time does
Aey Janam Mairey Naal Turey Ga
In this life you’ll walk with me
Aey Jism Mukda Hai
When the body perishes
Tay Sab Kujh Muk Jaanda
Everything ends
Par Chaityaan Dey Dhaagey
But the threads of memory
Kaainaati Kana Dey Hundey
Are forever enduring
Main Onhaan Kana Nuu Chunaan Gi
I’ll touch them
Dhaageyaan Nuu Walaan Gi
And weave the threads
Tey Tenu Main Fair Milaan Gi…
And I will meet you yet again

- Amrita Pritam (1919-2005), Punjabi poet and novelist

There were two kingdoms only:
the first of them threw out both him and me.
The second we abandoned.

Under a bare sky
I for a long time soaked in the rain of my body,
he for a long time rotted in the rain of his.

Then like a poison he drank the fondness of the years.
He held my hand with a trembling hand.
“Come, let’s have a roof over our heads awhile.
Look, further on ahead, there
between truth and falsehood, a little empty space.”
—  Amrita Pritam, “Empty Space,” trans. D. H. Tracy & Mohan Tracy, Poetry (June 2011)
एक दर्द था जो मैंने सिगरेट की तरह चुपचाप पिया है
सिर्क कुछ नज्में हैं जो सिगरेट से मैंने राख की तरह झाडी हैं
//
There was a grief I smoked
in silence, like a cigarette
only a few poems fell
out of the ash I flicked from it
—  Amrita Pritam(English translation by Jennifer Barber and Irfan Malik)

I will meet you yet again
How and where
I know not
Perhaps I will become a
figment of your imagination
and maybe spreading myself
in a mysterious line
on your canvas
I will keep gazing at you.

Perhaps I will become a ray
of sunshine to be
embraced by your colours
I will paint myself on your canvas
I know not how and where —
but I will meet you for sure.

Maybe I will turn into a spring
and rub foaming
drops of water on your body
and rest my coolness on
your burning chest
I know nothing
but that this life
will walk along with me.

When the body perishes
all perishes
but the threads of memory
are woven of enduring atoms
I will pick these particles
weave the threads
and I will meet you yet again.

—  Amrita Pritam
ਹੋਈਆਂ ਦੁਪਹਿਰਾਂ ਲੰਬੀਆਂ, ਦਾਖਾਂ ਨੂੰ ਲਾਲੀ ਛੋਹ ਗਈ
ਦਾਤੀ ਨੇ ਕਣਕਾਂ ਚੁੰਮੀਆਂ- ਤੂੰ ਨਹੀਂ ਆਇਆ
The days are longer, the grapes have a tinge of red
The sickle has kissed the crops – yet you have not come
—  Amrita Pritam

Like pure milk is my love,
Like old rice of many years.
Scrubbed and washed the earthen pot of my heart.

The world is like wet firewood.
Everything dim with smoke.
The night is like a brass bowl,
The moon’s silver coating worn,
Imagination’s faded,
Dreams gone rancid,
And sleep turned bitter.

On the finger of life
Memories tighten like a troublesome ring.
As if from the goldsmith of time
Grains of sand have slipped between.

Love’s body is shrinking
How do I sew a shirt of song?
The thread of my thoughts is all tangled,
The needle of my pen broken,
The whole story–lost.

—  Amrita Pritam | “Ek Baath (A Story)”
Aj Akhan Waris Shah Noon
  • Aj Akhan Waris Shah Noon
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Aj aakhan waaris shah noo kito.N qabra.N vicho.N bol!
Te aj kitab-e-ishq da koi agla varka phol!

Ik roi si dhii punjab dii tuu likh-likh mare vain
Aj lakkha.N dheeyan rondian tainuu.N waaris shah noon kahan

Uth darmandan diaa dardiiaa uth tak apna punjaab!
Aj bele laashaa.N vichiiaa.N te lahu dii bharii chenaab!

Kise ne panja paania.N vich dittii zehar rala!
Te unhaa.N paaniaa.N dharat nuu.N dittaa paanii laa!

Es jarkhej zameen te loo.N loo.N phutiaa zehar
Gith gith chadiaa.N laliyaa.N , fut fut chadiaa kehar

Vihoo.N vilissi vaa fir van van vaggi ja
Ohne har ik baans di vanjhli ditti naag bnaa

Naaga.N keele lok moo.Nh bus fir dang hi dang
Plo plii panjab de neele pai gye ang

Ve glio.N tutte geet fir traklio.N tutti tand
Trinjhno.N tuttia.N sahelian charkhde ghookar band

Sne sej de bediya.An ludhan dittian rodh
Sne dalia.N peengh ajj piplaa.N diti tod

Jitthe vajdii phuuk pyaar di ve oh vanjhli gayi guaach
Ranjhe de sab veer aj bhul gaye usdi jaach

Dharti te lahu vasiya, qabran payiyan chon
Preet diyan shaahazaadiiaa.N aj vich mazaaraa.N ron

Ve aj sab ‘qaido’ ban gaye, husn ishq de chor
Aj kitho.N liaaiie labbh ke waaris shah ik hor

Aj aakhan waaris shah noon kito.N qabra.N vicho.N bol!
Te aj kitab-e-ishq da koi agla varka phol!

Partial Translation

I say to Waris Shah today, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love

Once one daughter of Punjab wept, and you wrote your long saga;
Today thousands weep, calling to you Waris Shah:

Arise, o friend of the afflicted; arise and see the state of Punjab,
Corpses strewn on fields, and the Chenaab flowing with much blood.

Someone filled the five rivers with poison,
And this same water now irrigates our soil.

Where was lost the flute, where the songs of love sounded?
And all Ranjha’s brothers forgotten to play the flute.

Blood has rained on the soil, graves are oozing with blood,
The princesses of love cry their hearts out in the graveyards.

Today all the Quaido’ns have become the thieves of love and beauty,
Where can we find another one like Waris Shah?

Waris Shah! I say to you, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love.