I’ve lived all my life in Delhi and the stereotype of brash, loud, uncultured ‘panju’ is all too familiar but so untrue, like all good stereotypes,  as my current fling with Punjabi poets has shown me. Why do I feel such affinity with Punjabi poets? Probably it’s the proximity of Punjabi to Urdu- idioms and metaphors.

I recently discovered Amrita Pritam’s poetry… I had read a lot about her especially when she passed away in October 2005. And then her poem Chup Ki Saazish struck a chord. Here goes… with my translation…

Chup Ki Saazish

 

raat oongh rahi hai…

kisi ne insaan ki

chhati mein sendh lagaai hai

har chori se bhayanak

yeh sapnon ki chori hai.

 

choron ke nishaan-

har desh ke har sheher ki

har sadak par baithe hein

par koi aankh dekhti nahin,

na chaunkti hai.

sirf ek kutte ki tarah

ek zanjeer se bandhi

kisi waqt kisi ki

koi nazm bhaunkti hai.

 

Conspiracy Of Silence

 

The night is dozing…

from a human being’s chest

someone is trying to steal

scarier than any theft

is the theft of dreams.

 

Signs of thieves-

sit on each road of

each city of each country

but no eye sees

nor does it get startled.

Like only a dog

tied with a chain

at times, it barks

a poem of someone.

 

I read a poet by completely immersing myself in their poetry for a few days. Reading, re-reading, soaking myself in their idioms, nuances of language, recurrent and hence favourite metaphors of the poet till I think I have deciphered them for myself as well as I have the capacity to. I noticed while reading Amrita that most women poets have a tendency to use the body metaphor all too often. I feel that women poets like other women give a disproportionate space and importance in their lives to men/relationships, so much so that their creative energies also tend to get entangled in them all the time. Sex/ body/ garments imagery in poetry is an expression of the reality of most women- the discontent of not having a say or control in relationships especially over the ‘use’ of one’s body. So even when their poetry is an act of defiance against the societal restraint on women’s voice, its metaphors stem from their overwhelming preoccupation with these images. Is this avoidable? Should a woman poet wish to avoid it, what kind of poetry would she then make? Has it been already done-creation of women’s poetry with new metaphors?

 

 I’ve translated below a series of Amrita Pritam’s poems in which she uses the same metaphor but makes quite powerful poetry with subtle subversive, feminist undertones.

 

Amrita Pritam’s life was full of unconventional and defiant choices.  It takes an exceptional person to tread on the path many dread to. Amrita asked for a divorce after 25 years of marriage, openly declared her love for Sahir Ludhyanvi and stayed in a live-in relationship with Imroz for over 40 years till her death.  She was born in a devout Sikh family and her first poems were paean to Sikh gurus but after partition cut her hair short and took to smoking heavily. 

 

Khushwant Singh, who claims that he was closest to Amrita than anyone else besides her partner Imroz and her children, also claims that, “Amrita was not a highly educated woman, not exposed to good writing in languages other than Punjabi. Nor sophisticated enough to add new dimensions to her own.” He tells us that Amrita was not interested in politics. (Amrita Pritam: Queen of Punjabi Literature by Khushwant Singh in The Tribune, Nov. 12, 2005)

 

Read Amrita and decide for yourself.  

 

Aadi Rachna

 

mein- ek nirakar mein thi

 

yeh mein ka sankalp tha

jo pani ka roop bana

aur too ka sankalp tha

jo aag ki tarah numaya hua

aur aag ka jalwa

paani par chalne laga

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

yeh mein ki mitti ki pyas thi

ke usne too ka darya pi liya

yeh mein ki mitti ka hara sapna

ke too ka jangal usne khoj liya

yeh mein ki maati ki gandh thi

aur too ke ambar ka ishq tha

ke too ka neela-sa sapna

mitti ki sej par soys

yeh tere aur mere maas ki sugandh thi

aur yahi haqiqat ki aadi rachna thi

 

sansar ki rachna to bahut baad ki baat hai

 

First Creation

I – there was a formless me.

 

This was the pledge of I

which took the form of water

and the pledge of you

which came into existence like fire

and the radiance of fire

started working on water

but that is about prehistoric times…

 

This was the thirst of the soil of I

that drank up the river of you

this was the green dream of the soil of I

that found the jungle of you.

this was the earthen smell of I

and the passion of the sky of you

that the blueish dream of you

slept on the bed of earth.

This was the smell of my flesh and yours

and this was really the first creation.

 

Creation of the world

is much later than that

 

Aadi Pustak

 

mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…

shayad ek saans ke faasle par khada

shayad ek nazar ke andhere pe baitha

shayad ehsaas ke ek mod par chal raha

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

yeh mera aur tera astitva tha

jo dunya ki aadi bhasha bana

mein ki pehchaan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

aadi bhasha ki aadi pustak likhi

 

yeh mera aur tera milan tha

ham patthar ki sej pe soye

aur tere aankein, honth, ungliyan, por

mere aur tere badan ke akshar bane

aur unhone

us aadi pustak ka anuvaad kiya

 

rigved ki rachna

to bahut baad ki baat hai

 

First book

 

I was – and maybe you too…

Maybe standing at a breath’s distance

maybe sitting at the darkness of a look

maybe walking at the turn of feelings.

But that is

about prehistoric times…

 

It was my existence and yours

which became the first language of the world

letters crafted for recognizing I

letters were crafted for recognizing you

and they

wrote the first book in the first language.

 

This was the union of me and you

we slept on the bed of stones

and eyes, lips, fingers, tips

letters were formed from your body and mine

and they translated the first book.

 

Creation of Rig-Veda

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Chitr

 

mein thi- aur shayad tu bhi…

 

mein ki chaanv ke bhitar thirakti si chhaya

aur too bhi shayad ek khaaki saa saya

andheron ke bhitar andheron ke tukde

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai

 

raaton aur pedon ka andhera tha

jo teri aur meri poshak thi,

ek sooraj ki kiran aai

veh dono ke badan mein se guzri

aur pare patthar par ankit ho gaee

sirf ango ki golai thi

chandni ki nokein

yeh duniya ka aadi chitr tha

patton ne hara rang bhara

baadlon ne doodhiya, ambar ne saleti

aur phoolon ne laal, peela, kasni

 

chitron ki kala to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Picture

I was and maybe you too…

I a flickering shadow inside shade

and maybe you an ashen shadow too

pieces of dark inside darknesses

but that’s about prehistoric times…

 

There was darkness of nights and trees

which was your attire and mine,

a ray of sun came

it passed through both our bodies

and made an imprint on a stone a bit away.

There was only the curve of body parts,

moonlights’ sharp ends

this was the first picture of the world,

leaves filled in green colour

clouds-milky, sky-grey

and flowers- red, yellow, .

 

The art of pictures

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Sangeet

 

mein thi- aur shayad too bhi…

 

ek aseem khamoshi thi

jo sookhe patton ki tarah jharti

ya yoon hi kinaron ki ret ki tarah ghulti

par weh

pura-aitihasik samay ki baat hai…

 

mein ne tujhe ek mod par aawaaz di

aur jab toone palat kar aawaz di

to hawaon ke gale mein kuchh thartharaya

mitti ke kan kuchh sarsaraye

aur nadi ka paani kuchh gungunaya

ped ki tehniyaan kuchh kas si gaeen

patton mein se ek jhankar uthi

phoolon ki konpal ne aankh jhapkai

aur ek chidiya ke pankh hile

yeh pehla naad tha

jo kaanon ne suna tha

 

sapt suron ki sngya

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Music

I was- and maybe you too…

There was unlimited silence

which would shed like dry leaves

or just slip away like sand on banks

but that’s

about the prehistoric times…

 

I called out to you at a bend

and when you called out back

something shivered in the winds’ throats

specks of dirt rustled a bit

and the river water hummed something,

branches of the tree tightened a little

a tinkle rose from the leaves

shoots of flowers blinked their eyes

and the wings of birds flapped

this was the first sound

that was heard by ears.

 

The name of the octave

was much later than that…

 

 

Aadi Dharm

 

meine jab too ko pehna

to dono ke badan antardhyan the

ang phoolon ki tarah goonthe gaye

aur rooh ki dargaah par

arpit ho gaye…

 

too aur mein havan ki agni

too aur mein sugandhit saamagri

ek doosre ka naam hotontho se nikla

to wahi naam pooja ke mantra the,

yeh tere aur mere

astitva ka ek yagya tha

dharm karm ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Religion

 

When I wore you

the bodies of both were in a trance

body parts got woven together like flowers in a garland

and on the grave of spirit

were offered…

 

You and I fire of sacred service

You and I scented offerings

lips uttered each other’s name

so those names were the chants of a prayer,

this was the sacrament of

existence of you and me

stories of religion and karma

is much after that…

 

 

Aadi Qabila

 

mein ki jab rut gadraai thi

maans ke paudhe par baur aaya tha

pawan ke aanchal mein mehek bandh gayee

too ka akshar lehlahaya tha

mein aur too ki chhanv mein

jan ‘veh’ aa kar nishchint so gaya

yeh ‘veh’ ka ek moh tha

genhu ka dana ham ne baant liya

‘veh’ sehej tha, swabhaavik tha,

mein ki aur too ki tripti

 

qabilon ki katha

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Tribe

 

When the season of I matured

the plant of flesh started flowering

fragrance tied on the flowing scarf of breeze

the letter of you danced

 

In the shade of ‘I’ and you

when ‘He’ came and slept without any worries

it was the love of ‘He’

both of us divided the grain of wheat

‘He’ was easy, natural,

satiation of I and of you

 

The story of tribes

is much later than that…

 

 

Aaadi Smriti

 

kaya ki haqeeqat se lekar-

kaya ki aabroo tak mein thi,

kaya ke husn se lekar-

kaya ke isq tak too tha

 

ueh mein akshar ka ilm tha

jisne mein ko ikhlaq diya

yeh tu akshar ka jashn tha

jishne ‘veh’ ko pehchaan liya,

bheymukt mein ki hasti

aur bheymukt too ki, ‘veh’ ki

manu ki smriti

to bahut baad ki baat hai…

 

First Memoirs (smriti)

 

From the reality of body-

to the honour of body was I,

from the beauty of body-

to the love of the body was you.

 

It was the knowledge of the letter I

Which gave etiquettes to I.

It was the celebration of You

which recognized He,

fear-free existence of I

and of fear-free you, he.

 

Manu Smriti (memoirs)

was much later than that…