Amrita Pritam (born 31 August 1919) is a household name in the Punjab, being the first most prominent woman Punjabi poet and fiction writer. After partition she made Delhi her second home. She was the first woman recipient of th Sahitya Akademi Award, the first Punjabi woman to receive the Padma Shree from the President of India in 1969. Though critical of the socialist camp, her works were translated in all the east European languages including French, Japanese and Danish. Mehfil, a quarterly from Michigan State University published an issue on her works. She got Jananpeeth award in 1982 for her lifetime contribution to Punjabi literature. She received three D Lit degrees from Delhi, Jabalpur and Vishva Bharti Universities in 1973 and 1983 respectively. Inspite of her poor health, she is still active writing and editing a monthly magazine in Punjabi Nagmani.Order now
Ode To Warris Shah – Amrita Pritam
Roman version by Amritjit Singh
Translated by Darshan Singh Maini
aj aakhan waaris shah nooN 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 zahir rala!
te unhaa.n paaNiaa.n dharat nuu.n dittaa paaNii laa!
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
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!
(This translation is taken from book in English by Darshan Singh Maini called STUDIES IN PUNJABI POETRY)
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.
Quaido’n, a maternal uncle of Heer in “Heer Ranjha” is the villain who betrays the lovers
Punjab division of language:
The language divide in Punjab at the turn of the twentieth century presents a complex phenomenon. In the wake of the reorganization of Indian states along linguistic lines in the fifties, the Sikh community in Punjab demanded a Punjabi-speaking State, in which Punjabi would be the official language. Its recognition was unduly delayed due to opposition from Hindus living in the states now Haryana and Punjab. Prior to Independence, Punjabi Hindus used Urdu as the language of administration, commerce and journalism. Urdu was also the major language of literary expression in British Punjab while Punjabi was the spoken language. As Punjabi Hindus were mainly a mercantile urban middle class, they were enthusiastic users of Urdu. They were also struggling to procure political status for Hindi which would displace Urdu. In their eagerness to achieve this objective, they began declaring Hindi rather than Punjabi as their mother tongue in the censuses with the intention of gaining numerical precedence over Muslims and Urdu.1 Like the Hindus, and swayed by their leaders, Punjabi Muslims–who mostly spoke regional varieties of Punjabi–fought to maintain Urdu’s official status on the lower and middle rungs of civil administration and education.
After Independence, as a result of the partition of India, most of the Muslim population from Punjab migrated to Pakistan and similarly the entire Sikh population together with most of the Hindus from west Punjab migrated to the Indian Punjab. In the Indian Punjab, language confrontation shifted from Urdu-Hindi to Hindi-Punjabi soon after the question of deciding the state language arose.2 It was also accompanied by communal tensions between Hindus and Sikhs which had remained dormant during the British period since the struggle was primarily confined to the two major religious groups–Hindus and Muslims. As a tiny minority, the Sikhs previously had a deep and symbiotic relationship with the Hindu community at large. In fact, the two were tied to each other through a complex of laminated attitudes and reciprocities, besides the bonds of blood and bone.3 Since Hindus and Sikhs jointly constituted a minority against the Muslim majority in the British Punjab the Sikhs, by and large, threw in their lot with Hindus.
The emergence of Hindu and Muslim nationalism in Punjab led to a distortion of certain cultural processes, with the most potent expression showing in the identification of language with religion.4 In fact, this situation prevailed in all the provinces of North India in which the Hindu and Muslim populations were numerically balanced–albeit rather precariously. Prior to Partition, the Muslims had a slight majority over the Hindus in the united Punjab.5 The British rulers made Urdu a medium of school instruction and administration at the lower and middle levels with this in view. After the Muslims migrated to Pakistan, Urdu was displaced as a language of administration and education due to the disappearance of Muslims from the political scene. It should have been natural for Punjabi to take its place for the simple reason that it was the spoken language of the people. But this did not happen. A battle of succession started, the Hindus fighting for Hindi and the Sikhs for Punjabi.6 The Hindus as a majority identified themselves with Hindi, and Muslims in Pakistan abandoned Punjabi and made Urdu a communal badge of their ethnic identity. Even in British Punjab they were committed to Urdu since it was the language of their religious identity. In Indian Punjab, Hindus started cultivating Hindi with fanatic devotion and Punjabi became a symbol of the Sikhs’ cultural and political identity. Under the impact of Arya Samaj, a Hindu reform organization, the Hindus had already adopted Hindi as communal symbol of Hindu nationalism and Sikhs began constructing their minority identity through Punjabi language and literature under the influence of the Singh Sabha movement.7
In this paper, I will explain (1) how religion, politics and language were intermixed in Punjab, resulting in ongoing communal conflict between Hindus and Sikhs, giving birth to Sikh separatism. (2) I will also try to demonstrate that the religious symbols improvised and utilized by leaders of political parties to mobilize nationalist sentiments rarely appealed to minority communities and indigenous groups. Most of these minority groups later opted for demands of statehood autonomy with special status. (3) I will further try to show that such separatism, as developed in Punjab later, gave rise to Sikh militancy in the eighties as the minuscule leadership aspiring for power exploited the racial and ethnic sentiments in their own narrow political interests. The politics of evasion, intransigence and backsliding combined with the growth of both Hindu and Sikh fundamentalism made the situation still worse. (4) Another dimension of this conflict is its serious impact on the development of the modern Punjabi literary tradition. It limited the development of the tradition into a dialogue of the Sikh minority community with itself, curbing the tradition’s potential for growth as a Punjabi secular tradition. This contributed to the growing insularity of this literature in the midst of India’s cultural pluralism. (5) Considering that conflicts between the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities to use and preserve their languages and the desire of centralized states to establish a national language in South and Southeast Asia have often been resolved in an atmosphere of liberal linguistic pluralism in which multiformity is largely preserved, I would like to suggest that India’s lengthy tradition of multilingualism and societal bilingualism can offer a just and fair solution to the conflict.8
The Punjabi-Hindi conflict in the fifties and sixties, by and large, revolved around three issues.9 The first was the status of the Punjabi language. Hindus argued that Punjabi was not a full-fledged language. It was only a dialect of Hindi without a strong literary tradition and one that could not be raised to the status of a state language due to its backwardness. The second reason given was that Punjabi did not have a thoroughly developed script of its own. Finally, there was no specific area or region in Punjab where it was being spoken, because Hindus, claiming Hindi as their mother tongue, lived all over Punjab. Hindus, therefore, argued against Punjabi not because they had convincing reasons, but because Hindi was the language of their religious discourse and a symbol of their political dominance. In their fight against Urdu they had already adopted Hindi as a symbol of their distinct socio-political identity.
If we try to understand this situation from a linguistic point of view, the Hindu argument does not remain tenable. According to research conducted by Grierson, Punjabi is a distinct language with both a standard literary form and a number of dialectical and sub dialectal varieties. It has its own grammatical system and vocabulary, which makes it a separate language. Although Grierson recognized its literary capabilities, he judged that it was not a very extensive regional literature This charge was later refuted by Punjabi scholars. Most importantly, Grierson rejects the idea that Punjabi was just a dialect of Hindi and he draws a fairly sharp boundary between Punjabi and Western Hindi or Hindustani. In fact, the controversy between Punjabi and Hindi protagonists was rife at his time and this made him take a clear stand in regard to the Punjabi language’s separate identity. While writing on the features of the Punjabi language, he concludes:
Even at the present day there is too great a tendency to look down upon Punjabi as a mere dialect of Hindustani (which it is not), and to deny its status as an independent language. Its claim mainly rests upon its phonetic system and on its store of words not found in Hindi; both of which characteristics are due to its old lahanda foundation. Some of the most common words do not occur in Hindustani.