Amarjit Chandan is a noted Punjabi poet and essayist. He is the author of eight collections of poetry and three books of essays in Punjabi (in the Gurmukhi and the Persian script) and one book of poetry in English translation. Born in Nairobi, he graduated from Punjab University. As a result of his active involvement in the Maoist Naxalite movement in his youth, he was imprisoned and spent two years in solitary confinement. Later he worked for various Punjabi literary and political magazines, including the Mumbai-based Economic and Political Weekly, before migrating to England in 1980. He lives in London.
In recognition of his contribution to contemporary Punjabi letters, he was awarded the lifetime achievement award by the Punjab Government in December 2004, and yet another lifetime achievement award by the Punjabi community in Britain (All-Party Parliamentary Group, London) in 2006. He was among the British poets on Radio 3 selected by Andrew Motion on National Poetry Day in 2001.
Chandan’s poetry does not invoke the theme of place with any easy sentimentalism. Nakoda, his home town in the Punjab, does recur in these selected poems with an insistent longing. There is a particularly vibrant memory of the entire village sharing a collective dream as it congregates to watch a silent film in the year 1930. But the memories of home are more layered than they may initially seem. The sight of a billboard advertising lasan or garlic in a distant country appears to arouse a simple nostalgia, but the poet is also aware of the aching cargo of loss the word evokes for the women farm labourers of California. And for all the memories of childhood and adolescence — his mother’s laughter, the clang of the village school-bell — there is also the unforgettable sound of prison gates.
There is a silence in Chandan’s poetry — a deep sense of the unspoken, and more accurately, the unspeakable. This is, no doubt, intimately connected with his years of solitary confinement in an Amritsar prison. In an interview (not included in this edition) he declares that his belief in “violence as a midwife of change” has long been buried. But what is not so easy to bury is memory: memory of torture, sleep deprivation and of the interminable hours in a prison cell, in which time frayed his nerves “like chalk screeching on a blackboard. You count your breaths, lose count and start again . . . I’m a poet, yet there are no words to explain these feelings, this loss of spirit.”
When he edited the Maoist movement’s official publication, Lokyudh, he believed words were his weapon. There is little evidence of that bellicosity in these poems. Words here are precarious and makeshift signposts in a vast hinterland of memory. They do not seek to tame silence, merely make a fragile truce with its unmappability.
Kauan Nahin Chahega, Rangshala, Chandigarh, 1975
Kavitavaan, Navyug, Delhi, 1985
Being Here (in English), The Many Press, London, 1993
Jarhan, Aesthetic Publications, Ludhiana, 1995
Beejak, Navyug, New Delhi, 1996
Chhanna, Navyug, New Delhi, 1998
Guthli, Kitab Tirinjan, Lahore, 1999
Gurhti (in Farsi script) , Navyug, New Delhi, 2000
Anaran vala Vehra (in Farsi script), Kitab Tirinjan, Lahore, 2000
Annjall, Lokgeet, Chandigarh, 2006
Failsufian, Ravi/Navyug, New Delhi, 1985
Nishani, Navyug, New Delhi, 1997
Nuqta (in Farsi script), Kitab Tirinjan, Lahore, 2007
/> APNA: Amarjit Chandan reading out his poems
Poetry Library: Three translations of Amarjit Chandan’s poems
You Tube: Amarjit Chandan reading out his poems