Picture yourself in a cage, when all you want to do is fly out. Fly high in the open blue sky. Further envision, if you had attempted an escape, and did manage to reach your flock. But alas, the flock refuses to accept you and worse, mercilessly forbids you from joining them before they migrate to another area.
What a plight!
This is the basic premise of Amrita Pritam’s acclaimed Hindi novel – Pinjar.
Pinjar(a), meaning cage in Hindi, is the story of a woman from Punjab during the partition of India and Pakistan.
In Punjabi, Pinjar means a skeleton.
Tumultuous times, tough situations, excruciating heart breaks, demanding society norms and yet Puro, the woman protagonist of the story, does the best she could.
Puro is betrothed to Ramprasad and is dreaming of her wedding and a future happy married life, when she gets kidnapped by Rashid to settle an old family score. Shocked and bewildered, yet brave, Puro manages to escape and returns home.
Now, this is where the writer walks us through the prevalent thinking of the times and the influence of society within the families. Her family refuses to take her back, fearing their own lives and reputation.
Broken, dissipated and emotionally torn, Puro goes back to Rashid and marries him.
The book then chronicles her life as Hamida, highlighting the pain, anguish and hard hitting effects of the partition. It also portrays the condition of the women of those times.
The writer paints a picture of Puro not only as the victim of her circumstances, but also as a heroine and an epitome of womanhood.
Puro is a strong and daring woman who does not give up easily. She fights at every step. She refuses to have a child with a man she does not love. She goes looking for the man whom she had once loved. She dares and steps out into treacherous zones to help her sister in law and is successful in reuniting her with her brother. And, she also realizes who truly loves her.
Overall, the book gives a very comprehensive view into the life of women during the partition. And does justice to both its Hindi and Punjabi meanings – a cage and skeleton.
The writing style is free flowing, adding adequate pauses in between, prompting the reader to sit back and reflect on the life of Puro. A nice narrative walking us through those times.
However, Rashid’s character appears to be too good towards the end. In the sense that it gives an idea to people that one can do something that bad, and then come out of it looking like a hero due to their subsequent behaviour.
Also, while the book is in Hindi, it is largely written in Punjabi dialect. So the reader must have a fairly good knowledge of Punjabi before attempting to read it.
That said, I would still recommend the book to all Hindi readers. More so, for the women of today. Not only is it a literary masterpiece, it is also an inspiring book to make a woman realize how caged she is, largely by her own thoughts.