When Amrita Pritam took to smoking while she was in love with Sahir Ludhianvi: ‘He appeared like a genie in the smoke…’

The unrequited love story of writers Sahir Ludhainvi and Amrita Pritam has been romanticised in the last few decades. Through her writings, Amrita wrote about her years with Sahir and how she always held him in high regard even though their love story did not follow a conventional route. The unfulfilled nature of their love story has added a mythical edge to their romance and their fans still can’t think of one without the other.
It is known that Sahir and Amrita never married each other. They were in and out of each other’s life for a long time and even after they found other partners, they always had a soft spot for each other. They first met at a mushaira and, for Amrita, it was love at first sight. “Walking at some dance from Sahir, I noticed that where his shadow was falling on the ground, I was being engulfed it entirely. At that time I didn’t know I would spend so many years of my life in his shadow or that at times I would get tired and seek solace in my own words. These poems were written in Sahir’s love, but I never revealed the inspiration behind them publicly,” she wrote about the morning after their eyes met.

In her autobiography Rasidi Ticket, Amrita wrote about how they would spend hours gazing into each other’s eyes without saying much. He would smoke endlessly, and stub every cigarette when it was only half-smoked. Amrita wrote that after he left, she would smoke the leftovers and felt like she was still around him. “I would keep these remaining cigarettes carefully in the cupboard after he left. I would only light them while sitting alone myself. When I would hold one of these cigarettes between my fingers, I would feel as if I was touching his hands… This is how I took to smoking. Smoking gave me the feeling that he was close to me. He appeared, each time, like a genie in the smoke emanating from the cigarette,” she wrote.
Amrita was married to her first husband Pritam Singh when she first met Sahir and even though there was love between the two, her decision to ultimately separate from her husband was not because of the writer. Sahir was a romantic soul, and Amrita too was surrounded admirers, so perhaps, they never found the right timing to be with each other but Amrita pined for Sahir, for years. “There were two obstacles between us – one of silence, which remained forever. And the other was language. I wrote poetry in Punjabi, Sahir in Urdu,” she wrote, as quoted Akshay Manwani in his book Sahir Ludhianvi: The People’s Poet.
Sahir and Amrita never married each other. (Photo: Express Archives)
In Rasidi Ticket, Amrita had mentioned that once she was asked to sit and pose for a portrait. In the picture, she was supposed to hold a pen in her hand and pretend to write. She started scribbling, and after a few minutes realised that the sheet in front of her was filled with Sahir’s name.

Sahir was one of the most popular lyric writers of the era and Amrita believed that Bombay (now Mumbai) had snatched him away from her. While he never married in his lifetime, Manwani’s book suggests that if there was anyone he would have married, it would have been Amrita. As per Manwani, he was once quoted as saying to his mother, “Woh Amrita Pritam thi. Woh aapki bahu ban sakti thi (That’s Amrita Pritam. She could have been your daughter-in-law).”
Over the years, many Hindi filmmakers have announced films based on the love story of Amrita Pritam and Sahir Ludhianvi. At one point, it was said that the late Irrfan Khan was attached with the project. Many years later, Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan were in talks to play the lovelorn couple but nothing ever materialised. Their love story did not have the ‘happily ever after’ end but decades later, it is impossible to think of Sahir Ludhianvi’s writings about love, and not think of Amrita Pritam.

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