Today’s wage


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Amrita Pritam often went into bouts of depression.  She also ‘suffered’ from vivid dreaming and nighttime dreams that befuddled her, confused her, and inevitably, cast a shadow on her work.

In her autobiography, she narrates a dream in which an old man leads her to a garden filled with roses – red and white roses, and miles of rich black roses.

In her dream, she asks the old man, where the garden, with its magnificent shining roses, came from.

The old man tells her how a woman once fell in love with a man. One day the man put a deep red rose in her hair. Later, he forgot about her, but the woman did not forget.

Her unrequited love filled her heart with sorrow. So great was her sorrow, it subsumed the sorrows of all of humanity. All her life, the woman composed songs stitching together her own pain and the pain of others.

When she died, she was buried in a piece of earth. A rose bush was planted on her grave and a few years later, a whole garden had sprung up – filled with red roses, white roses, and miles of black roses.

It was a dream that came often… probably troubled her often.


In the early 1960s, Pritam traveled to the Soviet republic, warmly welcomed in Moscow, Tashkent, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and Stalingrad. She was overwhelmed by the love she received from the literary fraternity there, and she forged lifelong ties with the women poets in these lands.

In a chapter in her autobiography, entitled ‘Tashkent’, she admits, “That year in my life helped me look beyond [my defeats, my troubles and trials]… .”

The trip exposed her to socialist ideals and what it meant for the working classes to live those ideals day in and day out.

This poem is a somber view of life and love, and how loss is universal, even if deeply personal.


In a corner of the sky,

siren of the night mill sounds,

from the moon-chimney to the stars

a ribbon of smoke is wound.


All my dreams are forges in the mill…

igniting by my passion,

firing by my love’s will.


After laboring all day,

one meeting with you

is love’s humble wage for today.


Love’s vessel wells up,

but is quickly emptied…

then it sits forlorn, face down.


The dying embers throb, extend

a few last warm  moments…

and I give thanks with upraised hands.


Siren of the night mill shrills

from the chimney of the moon,

smoke rises with the hope love will…


… live on daily wage it earns this way,

no reserves from yesterday,

nothing to carry into coming days.


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