In Memory/ Pretext of Amrita. In Search of Imroz

December 14, 2014 at 9:15 PMDec (Activism, Cinema, Literature, Music, Poetry)

The title of Raynuka Nidagundi’s new book amrutha nenapugaLu suggests it being memories [nenapugaLu] of Amrita Pritam but literally it means fond/ immortal [amrutha] memories [nenapugaLu]. As the words are woven into sentences, sentences into paragraphs and paragraphs into pages in this book of conversation with Imroz one realizes that the book is not just Imroz’s fond/ immortal memories of Amrita but also Raynuka’s fond/ immortal memories of her moments and conversations with Imroz.

But this book is not just about memories but also love and longing. Love and longing of Amrita for Sahir, a narrative which is unavoidable, the longing of Imroz for Amrita and along with it the subtle invisible yet omnipresent love and longing of Raynuka for Imroz. But that love and longing for Imroz should be understood, I guess, as a love and longing for Imroz not as a person but as an essence and also the desire to be Amrita, not as a poet but as the partner of Imroz.

All in all this book where the nenapu [memory] is only a nepa [pretext] is a book of multiple loves in which one can see various shades of love: Sahir’s inability to love, Amrita’s passionate love, Imroz’s unwaxed divinely love and Raynuka’s inaccessible love.



The author recollects an anecdote from Amrita’s childhood. The story goes like this: Amrita’s father used to insist that everyone at home reads a chapter from Gurugranth Sahib before going to sleep. He was of the belief that reading of it will build an invisible castle around the person which evil powers will not be able to cross and a sound sleep is guaranteed. Amrita in her autobiography says, ‘parchaaiyaan bahut badi haqeeqat hoti hai‘ and names this ‘parchaayi‘ as Rajan who she wants to cross the castle and invade her dreams. She would try and skip a few lines from the chapter like leaving a small gap in the castle by missing a few bricks for Rajan to enter.

Narrating this the author Raynuka wonders who Rajan was- Sahir or Imroz and says it could be Imroz for it is he who came into his life and stayed. But there is a strange co-incidence here which makes me believe that Rajan was Sahir.

One of the most celebrated poems of Sahir is Parchaaiyaan. And Sahir is actually the one who invades her dreams and Imroz is someone who said, “Tumhaare saath jaaga hoon.” The one who came into her dreams and one who came into her life were different. Not just different people but also different kind of people.

The most popular anecdotes about Amrita’s love for Sahir are her smoking the cigarette buds that Sahir had smoked and her deep desire during her pregnancy to want a child who is like Sahir. There is another anecdote about she writing the name of Sahir on Imroz’s back while sitting behind him on the scooter as he drove her to the AIR office where she was working. Such was her love for Sahir. Writing about this episode in one of his poems Imroz writes, “manchaahi peet per manchaaha naam” and continues to write:

uski kalam jab bhi likhti
manchaaha hee likhti
aur uski zindagi manchaaha hee jeeti
apne aap ke saath aur
apne manchaahe ke saath bhi.

images (4)

Now that was Amrita. Free will. Passionate. Intense. Such was her love too. Not just for Sahir but also for Imroz and also for Pritam Singh.

Amrita married Pritam Singh and also had two kids with him. Then they got divorced. But at the dusk of his life when he was unwell Amrita brings her home where she is living with her kids and Imroz and takes care of him till the dusk in his eyes slips silently into the night. At the dusk of her life Amrita asks Imroz to be next to her to be by her. What ever she did she did it the way she wanted to and did it passionately.

On second thoughts it appears that she never read the chapter from Gurugranth Sahib and there was no one Rajan and there was no castle built around her. Her name carried, till the end, and still carries the name of her husband Pritam. She wrote on air on sand on floor everywhere the name of Sahir and she lived her life with Imroz. Such passionate lover and true lover!

When partition took place Amrita wrote her most famous poem, “aaj akhan waarish shaah noon” which Kushwant Singh in his dismissive tone says as the only piece of writing from Amrita worth mentioning. The first para of the poem reads:

aaj akhan waarish shaah noon
kitaan qabraan wichon bol
tey ajj kitaab-e-ishq da koi agla waraq pol

to mean

“Today I call Warish Shah
“Speak from inside your grave”
and turn today the book of love’s next affectionate page.”

From here she goes on to describe the plight of Punjab saying:

ek royi si di punjaab dhi
tu likh likh waare wain
ajj lakhan diyaa rodhiyaa
tenu waaish shaah noon kain”

to mean

“Once one daughter of Punjab cried
you wrote a wailing saga
Today a million daughter cry to you Warish Shaah.”

In this now historical poem Amrita is not just asking Warish Shah to give voice to the pain but also to speak of love- ‘turn today the book of love’s next affectionate page’. This amidst all the mindless violence of partition.

This if juxtaposed with Faiz’s most quoted poem ‘mujhse pehli si muhobbat mere mehboob na maang‘ then we see a striking difference. While Faiz asks his lover to not ask for love like before and gives the reason, “hai aur bhi gam duniyaa mein muhobbat ke siwaa” Amrita amidst all the “aur bhi gam duniya mein” asks for love for she finds it to be the need.

The person who she loved immensely- Sahir- sadly, was more with the mindset of Faiz’s poetry it appears at one level for he in his poem titled Gurez writes these lines:

Main zindagi ke hakaayak sey bhaag aaya tha,
Ki mujhko khud mein chupaa le teri phoosoon-e-zaaye

Kahaan talak koi zinda haqeeqaton sey bachey,
Kahaan talak khade chup chupke naghma-pairaayee

[I had run away from the realities of life,
To find shelter in the wonder of your beauty
But for how long can one avoid the realities of life,
For how long can one sing songs from the shadow?]

But Sahir was more complicated than that…



Sahir was a giant. Giant poet too. His innumerable admirers to this day associate most of his songs with Amrita Pritam. More than any his “kabhi kabhi” and “chalo ek baar phir se ajnabee ban jaaye hum dono.” The possibilities are high.

In “Kabhi kabhi” after long descriptions about what he feels and imagines in the end he says, “main jaantaa hoon kay tu gair hai magar youn hee, kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayaal aata hai” like a lost lover who sings even after the curtains are closed hallucinating an opera. In “chalo ek baar phir se” he is in the most difficult situation struggling with the necessity to become strangers again- not just forgetting- and the impossibility of becoming strangers again after having lived life and shared moments of life together.

There is a poem that Imroz has written about Sahir and Amrita where he says, “muhobbat zindagi bhi hoti hai, sirf kavita ya nazm nahi” [Love is life as well/ Not just a poem or song] which rings true because Sahir who wrote some of the finest lines on love and some of the most romantic lines did not have a sound and healthy love life.

Sahir tells Amrita that in Lahore he used stand for hours outside her house nearby a cigarette shop looking at the road-facing window of her house hoping to catch a glance of Amrita. He looks no less passionate than Amrita nor any less sensitive.Imroz in the concluding stanza of his poem writes:

nau sou meel ka faaslaa koi faaslaa nahi hota
aur bhi hongey faasle jo tay nahi huye
waqt ke saath uski kavita behtreen kavita tak pahunch gayee
aur uske nazm bhi behtreen nazm tak pahunch gayee

Par dono zindagi tak nahi pahunchey
pahunch jaatey toh dono ki zindagi bhi
kavita kavita ho jaati nazm nazm ho jaati

[A distance of nine hundred miles can be bridged
There may have been other distances that weren’t bridged
With time her poems got better and better
And his songs too got better and better

But both couldnt reach each other’s lives
Had they, then their lives Would’ve resembled a beautiful poem]

Why dint his love for Amrita did not translate itself into a relationship, companionship? What is the distance, pointed by Imroz, that Sahir couldnt cover? There cannot be one answer to this.


In Sahir’s biography by Akshay Manwani we get to see quite a few possible reasons. Kaifi Azmi points at the inferiority complex that Sahir suffered with because of his not-so-pleasant looks. Javed Akhtar points at the, “strange, unhealthy, even complicated,” relationship Sahir shared with his mother which Kushwant Singh bluntly and straightly calls, “mother-fixation” and pins the term “Oedipus complex,” which according to him made Sahir, “incapable of consummating the few love affairs he had in the short life of 59 years.” Akshay Manwani draws our attention the poem Hiraas [Fear] by Sahir to point at his strong anxiety of rejection. This could have stemmed from his average looks which Kaifi sahab points at. But then Imroz, in Akshay Manwani’s book, speaks of the distressed upbringing and troubled childhood which could have crippled him.

“Hardships and distress at an impressionable age”, as Dilip Chitre says speaking of Namdeo Dhasal, “is not an easy burden to carry and to shed it after years of conditioning requires superhuman strength of spirit.” What complicates it further are the issues that keep entangling with the already existing ones.

Caught in all this Sahir, the one who gave all of us our anthems of love and pain of love, was crippled emotionally and cursed by some sort of inability to love, which cost not just him but also his mother who wanted to see him happy in a relationship and obviously Amrita Pritam and also to an extent also cost Sudha Malhotra who is said to have had a fling with Sahir but denies it.

Probably Sahir knew his inability to love. Hence when Amrita goes with Imroz he accepts it and lets her go gracefully. In this book by Raynuka we also come across Pritam who is also a sensitive human but his marriage with Amrita was not warm. But when she moves in with Imroz lets her gracefully. Probably even Pritam, like Sahir, was incapable of love. But both seem to have accepted it gracefully.


Imroz in his conversation with Raynuka says, “Sahir would have never married.” Listening to this Raynuka says, “Possibly Imroz understood Sahir better than Amrita.” Possibly. It is easy to understand why Amrita also chooses Imroz over Sahir eventually when one puts Sahir and Imroz side by side.

In a self portrait poem by Imroz the first line reads, “main ek lok-geet.” What a desire. To become a folk song. Now see this alongside Sahir’s demand for lyricist’s name on film posters and to be announced in radio along with the name of the singers. Imroz never signed his paintings. Sahir had ego battles with Lata Mangeshkar which made him take an oath that he will not write for her voice till he earns a penny more than her per song. Sahir’s ego battle with S.D. Burman saying a lyricist is more important for a song and not the music composer ending up in both agreeing to not work with each other ever, is also quite famous.

While Sahir was all for authorship and its supremacy Imroz desires to be a folksong where there is no authorship. Folk is unself conscious. Sahir was a shayar while Imroz was lok-geet. One wrote about love and the other lived love. While one was a, “chalta phirtaa taaj mahal” the other sees the structure of Taj Mahal, in a poem of the same title, as a pompous show of power.


imroz 2[1]

In the initial pages of this book by Raynuka we hear Imroz speaking of some mundane things. Imroz speaks of him and Amrita doing household things together. Him bringing groceries, she cooking, him getting her cigarettes being a nonsmoker, him preparing her cups of tea at ungodly hours in the night. Him picking up her kids from the school in the afternoon for lunch while she cooked.

Speaking of Sahir to Akshay Manwani Imroz says, “Its just that a creative woman was drawn towards another very talented man.” The true test of any relationship is the dailiness. Imroz becomes a partner in the dailiness of Amrita’s life. There mundane is the spiritual.

Amrita and Imroz, at their house, had different rooms for themselves. Under the same roof they inside the same house yet in different rooms. One cannot help but recollect the words of Khalil Gibran: “… Let there be spaces in your togetherness, and let the winds of heaven dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love… Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of the lute are alone though they quiver with the same music…”

Imroz in his conversation with Raynuka tells her about an incident with Amrita where Amrita is still dodging the idea of living with Imroz who was seven years younger to him and tells him, “duniya dekh aao aur phir sochtey hain.” Imroz immediately gets up and goes around Amrita seven times. Imroz also speaks about his lack of faith in astrology, his feelings about the futility of religion and worshiping. But he does a kundali of Amrita asking her to replace the nine gruha with some other nine words. This new kundali of Amrita becomes a painting in itself. His love for Amrita becomes no less to a faith in itself and a worship in itself. At one point he says, “I do not live in a way that is unsatisfactory to the God. I never disappoint the God.” But who is the God here, becomes the question. Was it Amrita? Probably.

Imroz speaking generally about history to Raynuka asks how those who looted can be called as baadshaah? and asks further if they won the land through means of love and peace? Imroz was named by his family as Indrajit [One who triumphed over lord Indra] and was rechristened as Imroz by Amrita. His aversion for triumph in any means other than love and peace is also reflected in him foregoing his name which indicates a kind of triumph. He becomes Imroz which means ‘today’ i.e. present continuous. Tomorrow is a dream, yesterday is a memory but today is a truth. Today was a truth even yesterday and will be a truth even tomorrow. In that sense it is immortal through amrutha!!!


What one senses from the first page till the last page is the subtle yet omnipresent love of Raynuka for Imroz. From the way she describes to the kind of questions she poses to Imroz and the way in which she does one can infer her love for him in the most non-worldly way. Looking through her eyes it is impossible to not love Imroz.

images (3)There is some kind of femininity in Imroz. He is fragile. He is soft. There is a very lovable child like innocence in him. As the great filmmaker Tarkovsky says, “When a tree is growing it is tender and pliant. But when it is dry and hard, it dies. Hardness and strength are death’s companions. Pliancy and weakness are expressions of the freshness of being.” The tenderness of Imroz is like a just born child unlike the body hardened at the time of death. There is a beautiful mix of the feminine and masculine in Imroz which makes him beautiful, lovable and natural.

The paintings of Radha and Krishna are usually in blue [Krishna] and slightly golden [Radha] and when they both come close, in paintings, at the point where their cheeks meet the shade is green. Green is the colour of nature. The place where the masculine and feminine meet that is closest to the nature and that is natural.

So inevitably there is a beautiful attraction that Raynuka feels towards Imroz naturally and this love as said earlier is subtle and omnipresent throughout the book. With the love stories of Sahir, Amrita and Imroz we also get to see soft and silent love story of the author Raynuka. Hence it appears like Amrita and memory of Amrita is just a pretext to meet Imroz be with him and converse with him. One can also not help but wonder if there is a secret desire of the author to become Amrita, not as the poet but as the one who has won the love of Imroz.


When Amrita wrote the name of Sahir on Imroz’s back he says, “For once I thought my name was Sahir.” Once at the Asian Writer’s Conference Sahir and Amrita had exchanged their name badges. Sahir became Amrita and Amrita became Sahir. In this beautiful conversation between Imroz and Raynuka we wonder if the author is longing to be Amrita.

In all these becoming of the other and foregoing off the self is beautiful love story in itself. There are, they say, two kinds of Ishq i.e. Ishq Haqeeki and Ishq Majaazi. The earlier one is love for/ of God or divinely and the latter refers to the love for God’s creatures. One school of Sufism believes that the latter can grow into the earlier like a branch can become a tree in/ by itself. The earlier is where the lover and the loved become one. The latter is slightly self indulgent.

In this book where we see the love of four individuals we see both these kinds of love and various shades of love.


The book also gives some sociological glimpses: the popularity of cinema of those days, the usage of lingua-franca Urdu by commoners, the Hindu-Muslim divide [separate glasses for Hindu and Muslims in Amrita’s house], the houses allotted to refugees in Delhi.

Speaking of the poem main tenu phir milaangi [I will meet you again] which has been popularized, by media, as the poems Amrita wrote for Imroz on her death bed Imroz says it isnt a poem she wrote on her death bed as many believe but some time long before and got popular only after her death. This punctures the mythic stature of their love story as we have constructed. This makes us wonder if their entire love story is some myth we have created and romanticized? Or probably for us lesser mortals it is mythic and for the unusual and extraordinary like Imroz it is just mundane and matter-of-fact.



Post script: When the author, in one of the pages, says its only the fortunate will ever meet and have an Imroz the man himself dismisses of anything called as luck destiny and fortune. Why wouldnt he believe so? This is how one of his poems read:

Zindagi Tasweer Bhi Hai
Aur Taqdeer Bhi..

Man Chaahey Rangon Sey Ban Jaaye Toh Tasweer
Anchaahey Rangon Sey Baney Toh Takdeer…

Life is a reflection
And also destiny

If colored in accordance
With your dreams, a reflection
And if not in accordance with
Your dreams, destiny.

Imroz was fortunate to have the colours of his life in accordance with his dreams.

Amrita had written, ‘arey kismat ko koi aawaaz do, kareeb sey guzarti jaa rahi hai.” [Please call and stop fortune which is passing by so close]. Some times fortune favours some…

Sahir in his original poem Kabhi Kabhi which he later altered for the film writes, “Yeh teergi jo mere zeest ka muqaddar hai, teri nazar ki shuaaon mein kho bhi sakti thi…” [This darkness written on my life’s fate, could have been erased by the light of your eyes…” and in a later line says, “Magar yeh ho na saka…” [But this could not happen] Sahir, may be, was weak not to fight against destiny or fate but was certainly quite weak when it came to romantic relationships and could not open the doors for his good luck even when it knocked on his door. He wrote:

tadbeer se bighadi hui taqdeer banaa lein,
apne pe bharosa hai toh ek daaon lagaa le

[Through action mend your rotten luck,
if you believe in yourself play the odds this once]

But he couldn’t mend his rotten luck through his actions. Probably he, being entangled way too much within himself, did not believe in himself enough when it came to romantic relationships.

[Special thanks to Shireen Azam]


  1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind said,

    Reblogged this on anandicarves.

  2. Prajna Shastry said,

    This write-up itself is fulfilling enough!

  3. Himani said,

    Beautifully written

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: