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Amarjit Chandan



Amarjit, London 2007
Photo by Diwan Manna

"There is a silence in Chandan’s poetry — a deep sense of the unspoken, and more accurately, the unspeakable... 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."


Amarjit's Poetry in his own voice

John Berger reading Chandan's poem LASSAN Garlic

John Berger. Photo by Maurice Casagranda

(February 19, 1994 in Mieussy, France)

To Father

As you taught me to write the first letter
of Gurmukhi - the Punjabi script
holding my nervous hand in yours
You taught me to hold the camera
to focus on faces in the pupil of the eye
and to press the button holding my breath

As if it were a gun
loaded with bullets of life.

Where are you now father?
Can you take some time off from death?

I would like to take my self-portrait sitting next to you
with a glint in my eyes.
Remember that photograph you took with the self-timer
of us together many years ago
You holding me cheek to cheek?

The photograph does not show the lump in your throat.

We will exchange pictures I have taken
of faces you have not seen
and of places you never visited
and you can show me yours taken in the valley of the dead.

View Amarjit's discussion on "To Father"


at last
the rock surrendered
and gave way to the water

who came first
the rock or the water?
the roots which
tore open the rock
or was it the seed?

why is water so wet
how long will it keep flowing?
bathing girls and boys
bob up and down and scream
as the water falls
upon their heads
and lovingly sings
love and live and celebrate
for youth is yours.

the young shrug off
all questions
and left on the banks
this moment of liberation
from why and how and where
this fleeting falling moment
is beyond question and thought

swirling in the waterfall
flowing with its zest
this is the moment of life
this is the moment of youth
this celebration

at last
the rock surrendered
and gave way to the water

[Ingleton, England]

Translated from Punjabi by Shashi Joshi

The Peacock In Walpole Park Ealing

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
The night bleeds pierced with its cries

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
The colour laughs and then wails

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
The body shivers and the world rejoices

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
It yearns for mango flowers lost long ago

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
It rains incessantly, it never stops

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
Trying to slake the thirst burning in its chest

The heart sinks when the peacock screams
Weighing its wings in the sweet prison

Everybody saw it dancing in its cage
Moaning and dancing

Who is Playing

For Renata Fontenla

who is playing
the symphony of quivering shadows

the water drips drop by drop
leaves imprints on stones

the sun rises
and small pieces of darkness are
spread on the white wall of your house
of the olive tree
of the lamp post
of the bird perching on it

the white wall
soaks the shadows
drop by drop
leaf by leaf
from the crevices of the wall
little plants
little shadows sprout

to reach the roots of the tree
the lamp post
the bird
the sun has come to your house

the door is open
the house is empty

the sun stands on your threshold in silence

Translated from Punjabi by the author with Amin Mughal and John Welch



In a distant country
When you come across a compatriot
You are thrilled to the bones
Your eyes and your hands reach out to him
And a chain of words is formed

I came on it once, the Punjabi word "Lassan"
written up on a huge billboard
For women farm workers
In a far-flung corner of California
And I felt

My language had welcomed me
Shaken my hands
Embraced me
Wished me good luck
For a moment the taste of the word
Lassan was like
A sugar lump on my tongue

Only words die
As a fish dies out of water
They lose their meanings
And gather new ones
Here the word Lasan means
Fifteen dollars a day
Bricks of the house
Ticks of the clock
A crane left behind in anguish
Gold ornaments
dresses and rings

The deep troubled waters of greed and indulgence
And very few fish escape the net

Translated from Punjabi by the author with Amin Mughal

View this poem in PDF format

More poems by Amarjit Chandan

A Poet of Our Times

Punjabi poetry has undoubtedly a rich tradition. Our bards have sung emotionally of tales of love, our saints have sought the meaning of life and thereafter in verse. The modernity in Punjabi poems sought to catch the fleeting emotions of life and its struggle in varied forms, but our most popular poets have been those who have coupled emotions with a haunting lyricism. Amidst these beautiful outpourings, the poems of Amarjit Chandan, truly a poet of our times, stand apart. His poetry comes directly without imposing any heavy philosophy, or losing themselves in elusive imagery. They touch the chords of feelings, but with a restraint and subtlety for he is a poet of understatement. His poems do not dazzle or shock but grow on the reader softly, talking of the common place things yet indicating much more.

Nirupama Dutt in "A Poet of Our Times" Indian Express, Chandigarh, 25 April 1987

Aldeburgh Poetry Fest 2001

Amarjit Chandan at Aldeburgh Poetry Fest 2001

Poetry Titles by Amarjit Chandan

"The poet has a unique knack of naming his collection of poems "Jarhan" (roots), "Beejak" (sower), "Chhanna" (bronze bowl with inward inclined edges), "Guthli"(pouch), "Gurhti" (first feeding of honey and jaggery to the new-born). This paradigm shift in the case of Chandan has not only been caused by a change in time and place but by a change in perception of reality from through red revolutionary glasses to ochre, mystic ones. This development is on expected lines.

This change is indicative of an immanent reshuffling of the existential categories. Spirit takes precedence over matter, the ideal over idea, the metaphysical over the corporeal, ontology over ideology, essence over appearance, ascetic meditation over political activism, penitence over power, solitude over multitude and silence over tumult."

Jaspal Singh, The Sunday Tribune, Chandigarh , 27 Aug 2000.

Jaspal on Amarjit Chandan in "The New Mystic Poet"



Lokgeet, Chandigarh 2006


Aesthetic, Ludhiana 2006 (3rd Edition)

Being Here

The Many Press, London 1993, 1997, 2005
ISBN 0907326285



Navyug, New Delhi 1991, 2001
ISBN 8175990937


Navyug, New Delhi 2000
ISBN 8175990627

AnaaraN vala VehRa

Kitab Trinjan, Lahore 2000


Kitab Trinjan, Lahore 1999
ISBN ..........


Navyug, New Delhi 1998
ISBN 75990295


Navyug, New Delhi 1984


Press Name, City 1996
ISBN 8175990058



In Punjabi Poetry

As in personal life Amarjit Chandans reticences speak more than what he tells, and this is equally applicable to his poetry also. In his poems bursting out of human passions directly springs from terrible suffocation and muffled psychological tension. His poems, even if they are of four lines, develop within the perspective of a background which can truly be called "poetic niche" and forms an inseparable part of the poem itself. If one ignores this, one can not appreciate the force and freedom of his illumined emotions and his poetry will simply seem "too sophisticated". This gives him a concise and vigorous style carefully avoiding weighty verbosities and repetitive conglomerations. Some of his poems seem to be the result of some sort of internal monologue, from the conflict of desires and nebulous thoughts. His attempt to grasp the psychic phenomenon in all its aspects lends his poetry intricacy and cohesiveness, not only of meanings but also of structure.

Excerpts from "In Punjabi Poetry" by Bhagwan Josh, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
4 September 1977

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Last updated April 2008