'The Ninth Flower' chronicles best of Amrita Pritam's works

Amrita Pritam. Image courtesy: IANS

New Delhi: Amrita Pritam, a name people from all spheres of life must have come across at some point in their life. The poetess, novelist and essayist, who wrote extensively in Punjabi and Hindi, introduced the conservative Indian society to the whims and fancies of a woman through her pen.

She passed away battling a prolonged illness on October 31, 2005, leaving a huge cache of work behind her. However, just a year before that, she entrusted the seasoned journalist and writer-publisher Jyoti Sabharwal to take up the humongous task of translating her various genres of writing into English that they both had titled, "The Ninth Flower: Best of Amrita Pritam". More so, since Sabharwal had earlier transcreated Amrita's second autobiography, Shadows of Words, that was widely excerpted and critically acclaimed.

Sabharwal, best known as a celebrity-writer, has co-authored the autobiographies and memoirs of Kapil Dev, Begum Akhtar, Vyjayantimala, Amrish Puri and Russi Mody, as also penned the biography of Dr Kapila Vatsyayan. A former consultant with Macmillan India, she's the founder-publisher of Stellar. In an interview with IANS, she talks about Amrita Pritam, her anthology, literature and future project in the same order.

Excerpts from the interview:

Tell us about the journey of "The Ninth Flower". What led you to translate such an extensive volume on Amrita Pritam?

It all started with a phone call that I received one fine morning in 1999 from Amrita. She said: "Tu meri doosri atma-katha, Aksharon ke Saaye, angrezi vich tarjuma kareinge?" (Will you translate my second autobiography into English?). I was stunned, but I responded with a certain reservation if one would be able to do justice to her body of work. She brushed it off saying she wanted the fresh perspective of a young writer, who not only had a command over the language, but also a sensitive proclivity. Amrita wanted me to complete it while she was still around but that could not happen as it was a huge body of work and she passed away in 2005. However, before that, I had finished one of her creations, "Chiragon Ki Raat (The Night of Lamps)". I went to see her and read some of the excerpts:

'Everybody wants that faith remains intact

That love should endure, too

The destination where love takes you

It transcends that faith, too...'

Now her signature smile appeared beatific and it was quite evident that she was pleased with what she heard. It was a delightful moment for me as what I transcreated had met with her approval. As for this huge volume, "The Ninth Flower", it was weighing on my conscience, since I had made a commitment before her demise. But one publication after another left no breathing space. And the recent lockdown that kept one under house arrest facilitated the culmination of this body of work that assimilates all the genres of her writings.

Why is this anthology being referred to as transcreation and not translation?

A: See, there are two fundamental whys and wherefores. First, each language has its own resonance. Secondly, no work of literature can be transliterated, it will demolish the soul of the book. While working on such a project, one has to capture the emotive essence of the original creator of that verse or prose and bring the resonance of one language to resound its echo in the new avatar. A reader should not feel that this book has been translated from another work. It should read like an original body of work. For instance, when one tries to literally translate an expression into Hindi, it could sound tactically, grammatically or in terms of the idiom or expression, incorrect. So, one has to follow the idiom of the language in which one is writing. This is transcreation and not translation.

Why should readers pick up this anthology?

Primarily, because it does not only talk about her relationship with Imroz and Sahir all the time. That part of her life is fascinating but this book isn't just about her ardour for two men. It is much more about her intellectual profundity, poetic fervor, spiritual depth and stream of consciousness. It brings you emotionally close to Amrita - a poignant poet, a soulful novelist, a touching short story- teller and a contemplative essayist. You know, she was dictated poems in her dreams. She was a blessed soul and divinely gifted to receive such phenomenal acclaim. This anthology truly gives an incisive insight as the reader would engage with her mind.

Having said that, the younger generation should read celebrated literature because it touches life. It would remain debatable whether life imitates art or vice-versa. Having been in the world of letters for four decades since college, when I secured a Masters in English literature, it is the art that imitates life and that is why literature alone encompasses and captures the entire gamut of life so naturally and beautifully. In the varied genres of Amrita's creations also, there were many facets that she blended ingeniously, like fact and fiction gelled so beautifully. Essentially a Sufi, whatever she chose to write - be it invoking Waris Shah after the ordeal of Partition, the anguish of women, the longing for love or deliberating on the social ills - it all converged in the realm of spirituality. That is why and how her words continue to resound perennially and cast their shadows, just as she wrote:

'My words agonise

Just as stars smoulder at night

And this is how she defined poetry:

It's a cave where someone has meditated.

And when no one is there any longer

What remains is the vibrated dust.

The lamp that burnt is no longer there

What remains is a residue of smoke.

The incense for worship is no longer there

What remains is what clings

To the hem of the air.

The vibrated dust, the residue of smoke

And what hangs on to the hem of the air'

That is poetry...

What should we expect from you next? Are you working on any other project?

It is too early to say that it would be my Swan Song, but I will be working on my memoirs. I think, after documenting who's who of India and having gone through all the facets of journalism, be it print media, radio, television, travel writing and eventually publishing, perhaps it's imperative to recreate that era when we had intellectual and creative stalwarts, those high-end achievers of my parents' generation. Be it Harivansh Rai Bachchan, Ali Sardar Jafri, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Kapila Vatsyayan, MF Hussain, Edmund Hillary, Richard Attenborough, Roger Moore, Dominique Lapierre, Mrinal Sen and numerous other celebrated names in the political, corporate and cine world. Now that I look back, I find it incredible and end up asking myself: How did I accomplish it all? Perhaps, a passion for people and places. The most valuable lesson one has learnt in life is that nothing is more educative than travel and what could be more inspirational than the 'human capital'. Above it all, life is a great leveller.

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