Pinjar-by Amrita Pritam..Arc of development of characters

Aj Aakhan Waris Shah nun,
Kiton Kabraan Vicchon Bol
Te Aj Kitab-e-ishq daa
Koi Agla Varka phol

Ik roi si dhi Punjab di
Tun likh like mare vaen,
Aj lakhaan dhian
Rondian, tainun Waris
Shah nun kaehn

Uth dardmandaan dia
Uth takk apna Punjab
Aj bele lashaan
Te lahu di bhari Chenab

Today, I call Waris Shah,
“Speak from your grave”
And turn today,
The book of love’s next
Affectionate page

Once, a daughter of
Punjab cried
And you wrote a wailing
Today, a million
Daughters, cry to you,
Waris Shah Rise !

O’ narrator of the
Grieving : rise! Look
At your Punjab Today,
Fields are lined with corpses,
And blood fills the Chenab

Around the 69th independence day of India-Pakistan, we went through some literary works in our Reading group. The Indian community in Tripoli-Libya has dwindled, but the reading group keeps our spirits.

Explaining these characters to Libyans, who are seeing the concept of their country as one United Libya under great strain brought out new loops of the post-colonial reality and how NATO sponsored “nation-building” plays out on the ground.

We discussed them in the context of arc of development of character.

In these coming posts-we will discuss briefly some memorable characters from Amrita Pritam’s “Pinjar” (The Skeleton), Jaspreet Singh’s “Helium” and also the popular tele-serial “Jackson Heights” which depicts the life of immigrant “Desis” in New York-21st century America.


Waris Shah, the Shakespeare of Punjabi literature, is invoked by Amrita Pritam to rise and write again as millions of daughters of Punjab cry. Waris Shah (1722–1798) was a Punjabi Sufi poet of Chisti order, renowned for his contribution to Punjabi literature. He is best known for his seminal work Heer Ranjha, based on the traditional folk tale of Heer and her lover Ranjha. Heer is considered one of the quintessential works of classical Punjabi literature




Amrita Pritam writes in that spirit. The Skeleton (Pinjar) translated from Punjabi into English by Khushwant Singh , is memorable for its lyrical style and the depth, the portrayal of the inmost being of the novel’s complex characters.

The story is of the abduction of a Hindu daughter-Pooro by a Muslim-Rashida.

Rashida is told to abduct Pooro to avenge his aunt, who had been violated by Pooro’s family.

Pooro was engaged to Ram Chand.

Rashida tells of the family feud while telling Pooro that ‘maybe we were man and wife in a previous life’ and told her to move ahead.

“ Did you know that our families, the Shaikhs and the Sahukars have been at loggerheads for many generations? Your grandfather had advanced us Rs.500 on compound interest and taken our house as mortgage. We could not redeem the mortgage. He attacked our house and had the entire Shaikh family ejected. We were rendered homeless.

That was not all. His agents used foul language towards our womenfold, and your uncle kept my father’s sister in his house for three nights- with the knowledge of your grandfather!

The Shaikhs were then like a bundle of sugarcane from which all the juice had been squeezed out. They wept bitter tears of blood and bided their time. My grandfather made my uncles swear that they would avenge these insults. When we heard of the plans of your wedding, there was talk of settling of old scores. They picked on me; they made me take an oath on the Koran that I would abduct the Sahukar’s daughter before she was wed.”



Though an unwilling participant in this family feud, Rashida does abduct Pooro. He falls in love with her and promises to not behave the way her uncle behaved towards his aunt.

The character Pooro goes through many conflicts, even tries to restart her life in her original family but realizes that she has no place in that family any more.


“ You have no place in that home now,”
Rashida, the abductor and husband of Pooro

When Pooro does escape her parents reject her

“Daughter, this fate was ordained for you, we are helpless,” Pooro heard her father’s voice. She clung to her mother.

“The Shaikhs will descend on us and destroy everything we have.”

“Take me to Thailand with you!” cried Pooro.

“Who will marry you now? You have lost your religion and your birthright. If we dare to help you, we will be wiped out without a trace of blood left behind to tell of our fate.”

“Then destroy me with your own hands.”

“Daughter, it would have been better if you had died at birth! If the Shaikhs find you here they will kill your father and your brothers. They will kill all of us,” said the mother, hardening her heart.


Rashida marries Pooro, names her Hamida.

In her dreams, she met her old friends and played in her parents’ home, everyone still called her Pooro.

At other times she was Hamida. It was a double life:

Hamida by day, Pooro by night.
In reality, she was neither one nor the other, she was just a skeleton, without a shape or a name.
Beside the well sat a maiden fair,
Brushing her teeth as bright as pearls.
Fear not, maiden. He that loves you
Shall come and take you away.
He shall come and steal you away.
He shall come without your bidding
He shall make you his own one day

Pooro hears this song and wonders why her fiancé Ram Chand had not come for her. It was Rashida who had come without her bidding.
Over time, Pooro’s life develops with Rashida. She has a baby boy and takes care of a child born of a mentally imbalanced vagrant woman who died in childbirth.

Her relation with characters helps evolve her thinking

Hamida- Kammo- the Hindu orphan girl who is taunted by her step father adds further interesting depths.

“So Kammo was abandoned by her father as well. People often say that when a person’s mother dies, even a real father becomes a step father. It was Hamida’s(Pooro) ill luck that her real father had become a stepfather before becoming a widower, and her real mother had, without becoming a widow, become like a stepmother.


Hamida becomes close to Taro who confides that another woman was the mistress of his husband’s heart and house. Taro is trapped in this relation. Through this relation, Hamida for the first time comes across a girl who had views about marriage and could speak her mind.

“Mother, if Allah was a witness to my wedding, then Allah perjured himself. I was never wed…never…” Taro gaped vacant-eyed at the beams in the roof.
Now, having seen other people’s sorrows, Hamida realized her troubles were small. After all, Rashida was her husband and father of her son. This alone was true; this alone mattered. The rest was mere prattle and a lie (Arc of development of character)
Ram Chand –her fiancé never came for her. Though she did sometimes wonder what her life would have been if she had not been abducted.

We go as we came
Nobody welcomed our coming;
Nobody waved us farewell,
O Lord, let him know we came!


Just as a peeled orange falls apart into many
Segments, the Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs of the Punjab
Broke away from each other..

• * * *

A sense of resentment surged in Hamida’s mind. When it had happened to her, religion had become an insurmountable obstacle; neither her parents nor her in-laws-to-be had been willing to accept her. And now, the same religion had become so accommodating!

This section of the novel describes the carnage which came around August 15,1947. Pooro still has conflicts as she sees a convoy come from the direction of Rattoval, where her former fiancé Ram Chand lived. Hamida wondered if she could see him just once…for the very last time?

They do manage to meet, she helps him with food and money.

“You are Pooro aren’t you?” asked Ram Chand.

“Do you still want to know?” Hamida replied.

The attitude at the time of partition was to try and accept the abducted girls.

Hamida-Lajo (her sister in law)

This is another relation which brings out many facets. They remember Hamida’s mother and cry together.

Hamida, with the help of her husband Rashida helps find her sister-in-law, Lajo, who was the sister of her former fiancé Ram Chand.

Rashida told her of the Government proclamation ordering people to hand over all abducted persons, so that they could be exchanged for others similarly abducted by Indians. Parents had been exhorted to receive back their abducted daughters.

A sense of resentment surged in Hamida’s mind. When it had happened to her , religion had become an insurmountable obstacle; neither her parents nor her in-laws-to-be had been willing to accept her. And now, the same religion had become so accommodating!

Rashida-Ram Chand

Ram Chand is indebted to Rashida for having saved his sister.

They meet, embrace and Ram Chand says-

“Brother, you have been very good to us; I’ll never forget the obligation I owe you.”

Rashida’s face reflected both pride and humility- the first because of the good turn he had done to Lago, the second because of his having abducted Pooro. He felt that he had partly redeemed the debt of honour he owed on that score.

Pooro.-and her brother
This is your only chance…..

The novel ends on the note of a fleeting temptation and then the realization of her destiny by Pooro –Hamida.

Her brother tells her that she has one last chance, and Pooro does think for a moment, but then finally decides that her destiny is in Pakistan.


The final words of the novel are a great summary and in these –Amrita Pritam has truly invoked the spirit of the great writer Waris Shah, when she writes

“When Lajo is welcomed back in her home, then you can take it that Pooro has also returned to you. Whether one is a Hindu girl or a Muslim one, whosoever reaches her destination, she carries along my soul also,” Pooro said to herself and made a last vow by closing her eyes.

Discussion Questions

1- ARC OF DEVELOPMENT OF CHARACTER: Discuss how the characters

Pooro-Hamida and Rashida evolved through the novel
Suggested outline-


See how the character Pooro evolves through realities unfolding to her through her relations with her mother, Kammo,Taro, Lajo and male characters- her father, Ram Chand-her fiancé and her abductor-turned lover-husband Rashida, and her brother.


He evolves from being the hesitant abductor of Pooro, to the loving husband of Hamida, to helping partly redeemed his honor on account of having abducted Ram Chand’s fiancé, by helping him find his sister-Lajo

2- SOCIAL ATTITUDES: Discuss how the attitude towards abducted girls changed

Suggested further reading

This book can be seen in the series of Woman writers on Woman characters.
Previously in our Reading group, we have discussed

-Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom”

Year-end discussions-2014- of Tripoli Reading group

It this novel Stowe pitched to the opinions of ladies, through touching lines like the one in which she writes about a mother seeing the clothes of one of her sons who has passed away
Throughout the book, the character Uncle Tom faces these challenges –both external and internal in a stoic manner , which brings out the character of Fortitude in him

-Jhumpa Lahiri’s – “Lowland”

The character Gauri, twice the daughter-in-law of a family…her first husband died in the repression of the Naxalite movement, his brother Subhash marries her, and helps raise the daughter Bela (who is the biological daughter of her first husband).

-Around our Independence day-2013-

In these series of four blogs we looked at some truths which are not part of “official histories” but were written about vividly by writers

Part 1-

Tryst with Destiny

Partition which came with independence is still a very emotive topic
in the subcontinent.

The summer of 1947 was unlike any other in Indian history, seeing the migration of around 15 million people and
murdering of around 1 million.

Nehru’s “Tryst with Destiny” speech does not address these aspects which were dealt with by writers such as Khushwant Singh in “Train to Pakistan”, Bapsi Sidhwa in “Ice-Candy Man” or Salman Rushdie -“Midnight’s children” in different ways.

Part 2-

Corrupt Layers

On August 22,1975, Rustom Sohrab Nagarwalla, ex Army officer twice phoned the State Bank of India, imitating voice of PM Indira Gandhi and her official aide P N Haksar, asking for 6 million rupees for Bangladesh.

“Research and Analysis wing.I did not know our Jimmy was also a scientist”

The character Dilnavaz naively says to her husband Gustad in the
Rohinton Mistry’s Novel- “Such a long journey”

Part 3-

Losing Identity….Diaspora

“I have been corrupted by England, I see that now-my children, my wife, they too have been corrupted,” Samad-the character in Zadie Smith’s “White Teeth” is a textural representative of immigrants of various ethnicities, worries about the loss of his ethnic identity and culture through assimilation
Part 4

Re-reading Frantz Fanon

It is a question of the Third World starting a new history of Man, a history which will have regard to the sometimes prodigious theses which Europe has put forward, but which will also not forget Europe’s crimes, of which the most horrible was committed in the heart of man, and consisted of the pathological tearing apart of his functions and the crumbling away of his unity.



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