‘Utth dard-mandaan dey dardiyaa tak apna Punjab. Beyley laashaan vichhiyaan, teh lahoo da bharya Chenab ‘(Arise! O’ narrator of mourning; arise! Look at your Punjab today, the fields are carpeted with corpses, and blood fills the Chenab). These lines from Indian poet and novelist Amrita Pritam Ajj Akhan Waris Shah Nu (Waris Shah, I call you today) vividly describe the agony encountered during the score. A relevant voice in Punjabi literature, Pritam is considered one of the earliest feminist voices in India and has inspired many people. She became the first woman to win the Sahitya Akademi Prize in 1956 for her poem Sunehade.
A literator, she is an important figure in the affirmation of feminism and political thought through poetry. October 31 of this year is the 16th anniversary of Pritam’s death. To mark this event, Modern Poets, a literary collective from Delhi, will stage “Ek Hai Amrita” as a tribute to the life and work of Pritam.
A genius of sorts
The play will deploy storytelling, poetry and drama to recreate pieces from the poet’s life on stage. Tracing their journey from childhood to adolescence, the crew plans to shed light on lesser-known incidents in Pritam’s life. Beginning with an introduction on his journey, the tribute will continue by describing Pritam’s affection for lyricist Sahir Ludhianvi. It will be followed by an immersive recital of the letters shared between Pritam and his companion, artist and writer Inderjeet alias Imroz.
Speaking of the play, director Mohit Dwivedi mentions that excerpts from his poetry and excerpts from his letters will be juxtaposed with Ludhianvi’s nazms (verses of poetry) that he allegedly wrote for Amrita. “We adapted the play from Amrita’s books, letters and literature available on her,” says Dwivedi, 27. The South Delhi-based director adds: “People should know more about her work. This piece will dive into his life in great detail. The two-hour piece will also feature Anhad, a group of visually impaired musicians who will perform a medley of Ludhianvi’s nazms. “When we started there were challenges, but we were able to overcome them with the help of the team,” explains Rajeev (25), the founder of the group.
An ode to Amrita
The idea to stage a play about the life of Pritam was prompted by the team’s affection for the poet. [Their first dedication to her on her birth anniversary this year], and the respect they shared for his work.
“The name of Pritam makes you smile; this is his heritage. Considering the work she has done and the time in which she was writing such modern literature, her work is courageous and still relevant, ”said Diksha Adhikari (27) who will play the role of Amrita on stage. “I started reading on Pritam in 2016 and immediately felt an urge to learn more about her. I also spoke to people who knew her personally, watched existing plays about her and read the literature available on her to present a precise account of her life, ”concludes Dwivedi.