Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests





Sunday, April 24, 2011

Amrita Pritram ਅਮ੍ਰਿਤਾ ਪ੍ਰੀਤਮ -Three Stories by Leading Punjabi Female Writer of the 20th Century

"Stench of Kerosene" (5 pages-translated by Sardar Khushwant Singh-1960)
"Wildflower" (4 pages, 1959-translator unknown)
"Shaiban" (4 -pages, translated from Punjabi by Nirupama Datt-1970)

Stories of the Real Lives of Women in the Punjab Region of India and Pakistan


Amrita Pritram (1919-2005-She was born in Pakistan) is considered the first prominent Punjabi woman  writer.   She wrote poems, essays, novels and short stories.   Her work is highly regarded in both India and Pakistan.    Punjab before the partition of  India was in Northwestern India.    There is now a Punjab state in both Pakistan and India.   The Punjab region is home to some of the world's oldest civilizations.    There are around 100,000,000 million speakers of Punjabi today.    Some of the worst impact of the partition of India was felt by the Punjabi people whose homeland was divided up by two countries.    When India was partitioned Pritram moved from Lahore in what is now Pakistan to India. She was of the Sikh faith and this is why she moved to India.    She won many literary awards and is known as the voice for Punjabi women.    She married and divorced.   She worked for several years for all India Radio and edited for 33 years a literary magazine.   She was also fluent and wrote in Hindi.    Toward the end of her life she became a follower of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, an international known spiritual teacher.

"The Smell of Kerosene" is set in the rural are of Punjab.    The central characters are a happily married couple and the man's mother.    All of  them lived together, as was the normal practice.   The couple met by chance and man at once felt love for his future wife.   She told him to go to her father and arrange a marriage which he does.    Seven years go by and the couple have no children.   They are very happy and accept this.   The mother in law does not.   In the eight year of marriage the mother in law finds a second bride for her son in the hope she will have a grandchild.    The man feels nothing in his heart for the new wife but she does become pregnant.   (spoilers ahead)   His first wife is heart broken even though the husband tells her he is married in his soul only to her.    Every year the first wife went on a trip to see her old girl friends from before her marriage.   This year her husband has a very bad feeling about this and begs her not to go.    She does not return when expected.    A friend comes to the house and advises them that the wife dosed herself and her clothes in kerosene and set herself on fire.    Shortly after this  the second wife has her baby.   The baby is presented to the husband.   He screams that the baby has the stench of kerosene about him and clearly will never accept the child.    

"Stench of Kerosene" can be read HERE

"Wild Flower" also is a story about the lives of women and how they are effected by the marriage customs of Punjabi.    A very old man who works as a servant    The man's first wife has died.   At the ceremony honoring her death an old friend of his offers him his young daughter in marriage.   I will leave the rest of the story untold other than to quote these very sad lines:
“What are you reading, Bibiji?” Angoori asked me one day as I sat under the tree.
“Do you want to read?” I asked her.
“I don’t know how to read.”
“Why don’t you learn?”
“No.”
“Why?”
“It is a sin for a woman to read.”
“Is it no sin for a man?”
“No, it is not.”
“Who told you all this?”
“I know it.”
“Then am I committing a sin by reading?”
“No it is not a sin for a woman of the city. But it is a sin for a village woman.”
"Wild Flower" can be read HERE
"Sahiban" is a modern retelling of an old Indian parable of star crossed lovers driven apart by the partition of India-You can read it HERE

I recommend all these stories without reservation.   If you will read only one then read "Stench of Kerosene".  

I will soon post on an amazing short story, written in English, by Mrinal Pande from New Delhi, "Bitch".   It is about a four year old girl married by her parents to a dog to ward off an evil eye they feel has been put on their family.  

Mel u




1 comment:

Man of la Book said...

Wow, what a powerful story. It is amazing what a sheltered life we live here in the US.

http://www.ManOfLaBook.com