ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Navigating language power dynamics, voicing multiple identities: Amrita Pritam on multilingualism and (self-)translation.


Charmey Diane - Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland


20 – Self-translation, translating the self: Multilingual writers in South Asia


 Amrita Pritam (1919-2005) has constantly been surrounded by words. When reflecting on her writing process, she describes words and stories springing out of her, especially from dreams. A prolific writer, she has published in prose and poetry for more than 60 years. Today, she is famous both as a Panjabi poet and a Hindi fiction writer. Her life trajectory and exposure to multiple worlds and cultures influenced her writings and the languages she used. In that view, multilingualism and (self-)translation can be considered as additional means for self-expression and exploring her own creative world and processes.

Nonetheless, multilingualism and (self-)translation also entailed practical reasons for Amrita Pritam, as they were necessary for publishing. She started publishing in Hindi because of the lack of a Panjabi audience. Moreover, she had to turn to a mainly Indian audience as a result of the Partition and the inability to sustain literary and intellectual exchanges between India and Pakistan. The magazine she edited shows her involvement to keep literary exchanges between Pakistan and India via the Panjabi language.

Drawing mainly from her autobiographies, I will first explore her reflections on multilingualism and (self-)translation. Building from these insights, I will consider poems she has published first in Panjabi and then in Hindi to analyze the way multilingualism, self-translation, and translation of the self manifest themselves in her poetic writings.