Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Travel Diary - Amrita Pritam

(autobiographical sketches excerpted as 4 poems)


From the water of the Ganges
to vodka - this
is the travelogue of my thirst.


Those days,
I used to work in the radio.

One evening,
I was sitting in my office
when Sajjad Zaheer came to meet me.

For a while, he remained quiet
and slightly fidgety, then
with some hesitation, he spoke:

"A delegation of Indian writers
is going to Russia, I want you
to be among them.

At yesterday's meeting,
no writer - of any language - had a problem
with this, but the Punjabi writers
put their foot down...

they said - if Amrita goes with this delegation
then our wives won't let us go..."



There is a strange sense
of loneliness in the pages of my diary.

As I look out of the air-plane window,
it is as if someone has torn the sky into two.

It is as if I have lain below me
one sheet of this torn sky,
and the other over me.

I don't know how long it will take
to reach Moscow.


28 May, 1966

This evening,
I saw the preserved houses
of Bulgaria's greatest writers:
Peyo Yavorov
and Nikola Vaptsarov.

Several years ago
I had translated Vaptsarov's poems
into Punjabi.

That Punjabi book is now kept in
his house.

when I touched
his table
his pen
his tea-kettle
with my hands,
my eyes teared up.

It was as if
when all those years ago,
I had translated his poems,
those lines had fallen on my ears,
those lines, which have stood there since,
and now singe my ears -

"Tomorrow, this life will come of age...
this belief stirs in my heart
and that which can come and strike this belief,
there's no such bullet in the world...
there's no such bullet in the world...".

These lines, he wrote in 1942,
a little before he was murdered by the Fascists.

It is as if, that belief,
which makes this world,
which remained untouched by bullets,
I touch it today.


14th June, 1966


160 kilometers from Tbilisi,
on our way to the Borjomi valley,
there was the Gori town, where we saw Stalin's birthplace...

Writers have come from all over the world
and this evening in Borjomi
is theirs.

of all countries spoke
of the wish for a better life, but
when the poet from Vietnam, Che Lin, got up,
all our hearts were heavy.

Today, his words are -

"Our poem swims in a river of blood.

Today, it speaks only of guns so that
one day it can speak of flowers.

When our soldiers go to the battle-front,
our people write poems and put it in their pockets.

We pray for the pockets which
carry poems in them.

Today, if we can save those poems,
then know we have saved the man..."

And there were tears in my eyes,
when this poet from Vietnam
came near me and said, "You are Amrita?"
I was stunned, then he said,
"As I was leaving Vietnam,
the poet Svan Jiyao told me
that there would be a woman from India,
and her name will be Amrita,
do remind her of me..."

A prayer is rising from my heart - I hope
that all the beautiful poems in the world become one
and protect Vietnaam..."

(tr. from Kulwant Kochad's Hindi tr. of Amrita Pritam's Punjabi prose)

Amrita Pritam

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