Amrita Preetam (1919 – 2005) was a Panjabiwriter and poet, who is considered the first prominent woman Panjabi poet, novelist, and essayist, and the leading 20th-century poet of the Panjabi language, with a career spanning over six decades, she produced over 100 books, of poetry, fiction, biographies, essays, a collection of Panjabi folk songs and an autobiography that were translated into several Indian and foreign languages.

She is most remembered for her poignant poem, Aj Aakhaan Waris Shah Nu (Today I invoke Waris Shah – "Ode to Waris Shah"), an elegy to the 18th-century Panjabi poet, Waris Shah, the author of the tragic saga of the lovers -Heer and Ranjha. Amrita’s poem is an expression of her anguish over massacres during the partition of India, when about a million Punjabis died from religious violence (Hindu/Sikh vs Muslim) that followed the partition of British India in 1947.

The poem, written in 1948, which immortalized her in the history of Panjabi literature, became the most poignant reminder of the horrors of the Partition.

I say to Waris Shah today, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love
Once one daughter of Panjab wept, and you wrote your long saga;
Today thousands weep, calling to you Waris Shah:
Arise, o friend of the afflicted; arise and see the state of Panjab,
Corpses strewn on fields, and the Chenaab flowing with much blood.
Someone filled the five rivers with poison,
And this same water now irrigates our soil.
Where was lost the flute, where the songs of love sounded?
And all Ranjha's brothers forgotten to play the flute.
Blood has rained on the soil, graves are oozing with blood,
The princesses of love cry their hearts out in the graveyards.
Today all the Quaido'ns have become the thieves of love and beauty,
Where can we find another one like Waris Shah?
Waris Shah! I say to you, speak from your grave
And add a new page to your book of love.


Portrait of Amrita Preetam, Oil on Canvas, 36X48 inches, 2009