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Know Your Poets: Amrita Pritam’s Influential Poem ‘Ajj akhaan Waris Shah nu’ On Partition Violence Against Women That “Prickled My Heart And Touched My Soul”

Having worked half round the world as landscape architect for several years, I finally made central valley California my home when  along with my wife and two children we bought a house in Fresno in 1992. Shifting gears from landscaping to agriculture as luck would land me in the middle of the well known agricultural county in the world, I took up a position in the Fresno County Ag. Department as the Romans do in Rome so to speak. Seven years ago in 2006, I retired from my job as an Agricultural Biologist from Fresno County and since then I have been thinking a lot more about the craft of poetry, something I have never really taken the time to do much before due to my professional engagements. Poetry is something human beings have always done and loved. To me poetry is something that exists the same way water or air exists. But there is obviously more to it than that. A quote I came across by Dylan Thomas is one of many quotes that aptly sums up what I think a poet tries to achieve in poetry with his or her words:

“Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” ~ Dylan Thomas

When I read this quote, I immediately thought of a wonderful Punjabi poet, Amrita Pritam. I was only 7  years old when I first heard her name and read her poem “ Aj aakhan Waris Shah Nu,” a kind of poem that did exactly what Dylan Thomas predicted. It prickled my heart, which I didn’t even know I had it then! The poem calls upon the stalwart of Punjabi literature, the legendary poet Waris Shah, to intervene in the violence set forth against fellow humans in general and women in particular in the days of partition of India.


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