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A Handshake with Chandan's Poetry

NK Oberoi

A contemporary of poets Pash and Patar, Amarjit Chandan is a contemporary of the present generation of Punjabi poets as well. His   collections Jarhan and Beejak have been duly recognized. Now when Chhanna his another collection has just been released, it is time we came to terms with the nature of his poetic achievement.

Reading Chandan's poems we are seized with a sense of lost intimacy. It is a slide back on the memory slope, revisiting the sights and sounds, flora fauna and ambience which constitute one's cultural upbringing. We enter a landscape of absences, silences and the ebb and flow of an awareness that rarely surface up. One feels deeply touched by a voice, a mood, and a poignant memory. The poet seems to be in complete command of where the momory takes us. It is not a conducted tour. It turns into an encounter with one's lost self. Through the reverberations from Gurbani, Sufibani, Puran Singh, we are led into this encounter with what we are increasingly getting alienated from. The encounter is so well monitored that we are rarely left alone with what the poem is doing to us.

Cover Channa
Cover-Chhanna by Sidharth
Chhanna, Navyug,1998  ISBN 75990295

Chandan seems to believe that there is structural kinship between the coming into existence of a poem and our culturally being born. The adventure of the poem originates in the silence and the absence within us struggling to be born in language similar to the cosmos shaping itself out of chaos. His romance with his prenatal existence represents his struggle to reach out to the unspoken and the unexpressed. His father is shy of putting his thoughts on the paper is known as Kaviji (the Poet) by the people. The entire creation is a paper for the elements - earth, air, fire, water and sky -- to write their poetry on. His mother figures in many of his poems. The image of mother stands for cosmic creativity. In one of his poems his mother cleaning the pair of shoes on the steps of a Gurdwara like her newborn babes. In the snatches of folk songs and tales heard from his mother he discovers the place called his home. In another poem he says his village is where the memory of his mother throbs within him. The village as an image encompasses mother earth itself. The mother embodies a home grown humanism emanating from her grounding in the scriptures. While listening to Lata Mangeshkar's rendering of a Shabad, the poet experiences vibrations of his mother's love for him. Being out tune with his outside and the inside, he recovers his bearings through the memory of his mother. His mother becomes the space and time of his forgotten milieu and his present sense of displacement. Walking the streets of London he becomes aware of his loneliness, the feeling of being lost for not being able to express himself in his mother’s tongue.

If there are poems delving into the substratum of memory, there are also poems which express political content. In the melodic pattern of a nursery rhyme, Chandan brings out with impishness and poignance the hurt racial pride of the villagers over a Punjabi girl marrying a Chinese, in preference to a Punjabi, even an Englishman. The ironic comparison of Guru Gobind Singh’s blue stallion on run without anyone on its saddle to the legendary ashwamedha horse is a soul-stirring indictment of the bloody terrorism let loose in Punjab for a decade or so. Chandan may or may not consider such poems as representative of his achievement.

Play of memory is the key to understanding the working of Chandan’s imagination. Inhabiting his universe we have a feeling of turning the pages of a family album. The pictures in the album seem to resemble us. They become us in a way. The audio-visual space appears at moments to be exclusive and private, and public and impersonal at other times. With an air of brashness Chandan describes his poems as narratives of his quest. Both the quest and its narrativisation become public property after they get transformed into credible poetry by him. Turning to inner spaces of the human heart besides, is a phenomenon not circumscribed by Chandan's poetic struggle alone. Seeing the desire-image as the world in itself or the desire-image in the world are ways of seeing the forms of creativity have not been able to exhaust. Without undermining the magic of his transformation one cannot help questioning the larger-than-life blow-up of his quest. One wishes if one’s ancient, primeval and cultural self were to strike an exploratory rather than a wistful dialogue with one’s contingent, historical self. Through the ritualistic use of visual and auditory images he lends to the harking back to past, a sense of mystery, a halo and an aura. In one of his poems, where do the images in his poems come from, a dry leaf gets green, with her breasts heavy with milk a mother Tripta is christening her new born and a father preserves the bullet which killed his poet-son. The images do establish and celebrate the mysterious origin of poetry. What one cannot help wishing is, if the bullet were to, besides the making of the poem, speak to us of our eventual unmaking under the terror struck by it.


About the author:

Professor Narendra Kumar Oberoi is the Head of the Department of English at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. An unedited version of this review was published in the Tribune, 8 August, 1998, Chandigarh.


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