It was the deepest night of November 1947, and winter had decided to be at its vengeful climax. Traveling on a train from Delhi with her two young children wrapped in a red shawl, she watched the shadows of the trees outside. They were like sentinels of pain. The darkness, the icy winds, the noise of the train rolling on the tracks… and the first draft of ‘Aaj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu’ was born.
The famous dirge that immortalized the poet Amrita Pritam tells of the horrors of the partition of Punjab during the partition of India in 1947. Addressed to the historical Punjabi poet Waris Shah, who had written the most popular version of the tragedy of Punjabi love, “Heer Ranjha”, she invites him to come out of his grave, record the tragedy of Punjab and turn a new page in the history of Punjab.
Written in November 1947, it was the first great poem about the greatest tragedy the subcontinent had witnessed and most writers, poets and artists point out that it is the most powerful in the score – of the two sides of the border.
“It was a time when everyone was depressed, ashamed and haunted. All you could hear was silence. It took a woman to write the first dirge about the tragedy. After all, what happened to women on both sides during the partition was disgusting and criminal—humiliated, killed, raped and sold into prostitution. Amrita came out screaming in that silence. Of course, many critics on our side of Punjab had a problem– ‘why was the poem addressed to Waris Shah and not Guru? Nanak’. Leftists thought it should have been addressed to Lenin. But Waris Shah was the symbol of the composite culture of Punjab, she had to appeal to him and no one else,” says poet and critic Nirupama Dutt.
Adding that it also enjoyed an immediate following in newly formed Pakistan, with poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz who read it in his prison cell and came out to find people carrying it in their pockets and reciting it on tea stalls and other addas, she asserts, “A lot of good poems emerged later, but this one will always get a special space. Plus, it towers over all her other work.”
Theater director Neelam Mansingh believes that poetry is like any other classic text – the catalyst may be some terrible event that gives rise to the poem, but it becomes something that travels through time. “When you see a massacre, a brutalization of women, sexist or misogynistic behavior, you go back and find a common thread. ‘Heer’ represents the essence of a Punjabi woman. She ceases to be a person but becomes an archetype. In this context, ‘Aaj Aakhan Waris Shah Nu’ is a poem that connects and resonates every time you read it. It never feels dated,” says this award-winning Padma Shri.
“Herself a great poet of her time, she added another dimension of the feminine perspective of Waris Shah’s ‘Heer’ by emphasizing the fact that she must pay the price for the bloody adventures of the male ego. By linking 1947 in Waris and then Heer, Amrita immortalized the senseless suffering of all of us.While celebrating the anniversary of the country’s freedom, it is important not to forget the slavery of our hatred, diplomatic immaturity and the political selfishness,” says playwright and author Atamjit Singh, recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi accolades.
Believing that an artist – a poet, a painter or a filmmaker should speak and record the issues of his time, national award-winning Punjabi filmmaker Rajeev Kumar believes that whenever massacres, wars or any other tragedy strikes, the worst victims are women. “With this poem, she responds not only as an artist but also as a woman. Just as Paash wrote in the 1970s that ‘we live in the era of Vietnam’ (American intervention in Vietnam).” It’s the way she articulated the tragedy and brought out the pain of all parties that makes her special.”
Well-known critic Yograj Angrish, who has written more than 10 books on Punjabi poetry and is the Vice President of Punjab Kala Parishad, believes that some poems become persistent and we tend to come back to them whenever the story unfolds. say again. “During the Khalistani movement, the poet Surjit Patar wrote ‘At that time Waris Shah was divided, now it is the turn of Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Amrita was a poet of the cultural tradition. When a crisis arose, she looked and addressed a secular poet of her tradition. . Remember, Waris Shah was a Muslim. If the madness of civilization ends, this poem will also disappear. But are we naive enough to believe that?
Although it remains one of the most discussed poems on the score, poet Desraj Kali, who has written extensively on Dalit issues and has been published and widely acclaimed by Amrita Pritam in her magazine ‘Nagmani’, believes that it is the worst work of the poet. “Reading this poem, one feels that she has no idea about the works of Waris Shah, especially Heer. Shah’s Heer is a revolutionary character, she did not cry or was moved. No father in Punjab dare to name his daughter Heer yet. She is anti-establishment, anti-system – both politically and socially, because her tradition means nothing. I don’t understand why Punjabis on both sides are so obsessed with this work. Aren’t they looking inside?Are they trying to say that all the murders were just in the frenzy?Let’s not forget that many were also calculated.
Poet Sudeep Sen thinks we all know what happened in 1947, but the poem is a humble reminder of the past and a fervent cry to get up and hold on. “There are echoes here that can be traced to current politics – but a poem evokes much more, both in terms of history and emotion,” he concludes.