Written in November 1947, it was the first major poem on the biggest tragedy that the sub-continent had witnessed and most writers, poets and artists stress that it is the most powerful one on the Partition — on both sides of the border.
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Adding that it enjoyed immediate following in the newly formed Pakistan too, with the poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz who read it inside his jail cell and coming out to discover people carrying it in their pockets and reciting it at tea stalls and other addas, she asserts, “Many good poems emerged later, but this one will always enjoy a special space. Also, it towers over all her other work.”
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“Herself a great poet of her times, she added another dimension of the female point of view of Waris Shah’s ‘Heer’ by underlining the fact that she has to pay the price of bloody ventures of the male ego. By connecting 1947 with Waris and “Then Heer, Amrita has immortalized the senseless sufferings of all of us. While celebrating the anniversary of the freedom of the country, it is important not to forget the slavery of our hatred, diplomatic immaturity and political selfishness,” says playwright and author Atamjit Singh , recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and Sahitya Akademi honours.
Believing that an artist– a poet, painter or filmmaker must talk and record the issues of her/his times, National award-winning Punjabi filmmaker Rajeev Kumar feels that whenever massacres, wars or any other tragedy strikes, the worst sufferers are women. “With this poem, she responds not just as an artist but also as a woman. Just like Paash wrote in the 1970s that ‘we are living in the era of Vietnam'(US intervention in Vietnam).’ It is the way that she has articulated the tragedy and brought forth the suffering of all sides that makes it special.”
Even as it remains of the most talked about poems on the Partition, poet Desraj Kali, who has written extensively on Dalit issues and was published and praised widely by Amrita Pritam in her magazine ‘Nagmani’ believes that this is the poet’s worst work. “Reading this poem, one feels she has no clue about Waris Shah’s works, especially Heer. Shah’s Heer is a revolutionary character, she didn’t cry or get emotional. No father in Punjab even now dares to name his daughter Heer. She is anti-establishment, anti-system — both politically and socially, for her tradition means nothing. I fail to understand why Punjabis from both sides are so obsessed with this work. Don’t they look within? Are they trying to say that all the killings were just in frenzy? Let us not forget many were calculated ones too.”
Poet Sudeep Sen feels that we all know what happened in 1947, but the poem is a humbling reminder of the past and a fervent cry to rise up and hold firm. “There are echoes here that one can relate to current-day politics – but a poem elicits much more, both at the level of history and emotion,” he concludes.