Momentary, Immediate, and Urgent: Amarjit Chandan

Amarjit Chandan joins our Ventures Tour tomorrow, Fri 2 Nov, at Off The Shelf Festival in Sheffield (details here). We asked him some questions in anticipation of his readings in Sheffield, Wakefield, Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Nottingham over the next few days.

How would you describe your poetry?
I have been asked this question many times and each time I evade it saying: I write about any thing – from God to the tomato. I’ve written a poem about the latter and I rather like it.
I think contemporary poets and literary critics including readers are better in describing a poet’s work.

When did you begin writing poetry?
I inherited poetry from my father who was a poet. My first poem was published in the prestigious Punjabi magazine Preet Lari when I was 20.

How have you developed and improved your poetry since you started? What is your writing process? Do you write alone or with the help of others?
One learns all the time. I write alone. It is revealed to me. It can happen any time, anywhere. I have written walking the streets scribbling on pieces of paper.

What encouraged you to take part in the Arc tour? What do you hope to achieve? What are you most looking forward to?
My publishers encouraged me! I’d like to reach more people who appreciate poetry. I’d talk about how the Punjabi listeners respond to poets reading in public. Unlike the English scene it is always lively. They respond to each word, image or a line they like by saying aloud like: Wow! Great! Marvelous! Mukarar – say it again! Bravo! The English tend to reach out to the poet after the reading, saying simply: that poem or line I really liked. A woman in Lancaster (34th Litfest 20th October) came to me telling how she was touched by my poem ‘To Father’ and could not control her tears.

How much does reading in new contexts change the way you think about your work?
Readers’ and listeners’ response is what really matters. I have read in all sorts of contexts – from large gatherings to intimate circles – amongst my own community and non-Punjabis. I feel rewarded even if there is a single person present who you know is touched by your words or a silent pause in your poem.
Sometimes I’ve a weird feeling while reading, which I have shared with my close friends, a parallel track runs in my thoughts that I shouldn’t be doing this – making public my innermost thoughts like a love poem or poems written about my loved ones. It wasn’t meant to be like this. My friends comfort me that it is sharing – that’s what poetry is all about.
Reading while recording in a semi-dark studio is bizarre and overwhelming – the subjects of your poems appear before your eyes and you talk face-to-face with them.

What do you think is most important in a poetry translation? Is fidelity to the original the most important thing, for example?
The original is crucial. The translation has to be faithful to the original in its own way.

What place do you think poetry has in contemporary culture?
Poetry has certain contemporariness about it by its very nature – it’s momentary, immediate, and urgent. It has the central place where our hearts are. It has always been the case and will ever be.

Are there any British poets you have been inspired by or you particularly admire?
I particularly admire John Berger. He is the master. As a man and a writer he is so inspiring. My writing is very much influenced by his work. Other English poets who are my favourite: Dannie Abse, Adrian Mitchell, Owen Sheers and Jackie Kay.

What are the difficulties facing poets in the Punjab?
Their main difficulty is to get published. There are no funding bodies like Arts Council etc. Most of the poets are into self-publishing or they have to pay the publishers and the readership is also shrinking. The poets in West Punjab Pakistan are in dire straits. It is the most populous province of Pakistan, with more than 55% of the country’s total population. Unlike the Indian Punjab, Punjabi has no status there: it has no official recognition in the Constitution of Pakistan. It is not taught at the primary school level. Even Punjabi members of national assembly are not allowed to make speeches in their own mother tongue.

Amarjit Chandan
22 October 2012

Posted by Arc, 1st November 2012


‘Seeing, and not Seeing’ by Amarjit Chandan

Everybody was busy recording the Olympic torch relay
through the glass lens, except for two curious children

‘The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. … The camera records in order to forget. … All photographs are there to remind us of what we forget. … Paintings record what the painter remembers.’
John Berger
In ‘About Looking’ (1980) and ‘Photocopies’ (1996)

In Spitalfields, East Lon¬don, hardly anybody was watching Olympic torch relay with the naked eye. They were all busy record¬ing the event through the glass lens, taking pictures, except for two curious small children. Watchful security was part of the spectacle. The camera was the screen between the eye and the event. The torchbearer was not the centre of attention (who was he?), the torch was – held high with the flame hardly visible in day light. They were filming live theatre. The void.

What was really happening? Was it a paradox of perception — seeing and not seeing at the same time? Why we don’t see any more as we used to up until only a generation ago? The world we experience around us is no longer free of all mechanical optic equipment. In events such as these, we tend to lose pres¬ence and postpone our palpable collective experience hoard¬ing digital images in memory cards (the highest capacity for flash memory cards is currently 128GB) to see them later seen through a tunnelled viewfinder – which is not first-hand experi¬ence — it is virtual, partial, and flat.
A glass lens ranging from fisheye to panoramic field of view has replaced 180-degree forward-facing horizontal field of view of an individual human eye.

Perhaps one of the spectators was a painter. One day he would draw the scene in the photo¬graph he collected retracing it on the canvas. Photographic memory?
Has the camera made our experiences richer?


First Published at
Daily Post, Chandigarh 19/08/2012

‘The Peacock’ – Screening the Beauty of a Poem and a Concept

This short film is a refreshing and stunningly beautiful rendition of Amarjit Chandan‘s Punjabi poem with English translation. Recited in Punjabi by the poet himself, the poem is provided with a captivating visual environment to unfold by Producer Madi Boyd, Director Kuldip Powar and Musician Ruth Chan.

English tanslation of poem by Amin Mughal.

Filmed on location in London UK, this 11 minute video is created ‘to explore the notion of the national bird of India through the prism of colonialism.’

View it on Vimeo:


‘Gursharan Singh: A Devout Punjabi’ by Bhupendra Yadav

Gursharan Singh as Bhai Manna Singh. Amritsar 1972, photo from Amarjit Chandan Collection

Punjab has its vibrant revolutionary tradition starting with Bhagat Singh. With the death of Gursharan Singh, fondly known as Bhaaji respected brother, a link with this tradition has been broken. If the worst crisis of East Punjab since 1947 was the Khalistani mayhem, Bhaaji emerged heroically from it. Born into a devout Sikh family, he lived in his ancestral house Guru Khalsa Niwas in Amritsar, wore his turban and did not trim his beard. This made him a ‘critical insider’ for Khalistani militancy and made his opposition to it more meaningful.

Bhaaji’s opposition to Khalistan was in a league different from others. He did not issue sanitised statements from behind bullet-proof podiums or well-guarded houses. He moved fearlessly in villages and towns of East Punjab with the determination of a soldier for democratic socialism against Sikh extremism. This experience gave him the faith to advise activists, ‘Your doubts will melt and you will find a way if you go to the people.’ On the day of his cremation, some 150 groups pledged to carry people’s work forward on Bhaaji’s inspiration.

In 2007, the Centenary year of Bhagat Singh, the whole of India caught revolutionary fever thanks to films like The Legend of Bhagat Singh, Rang de Basanti etc. It goes to the credit of Bhaaji that he celebrated the memory of Bhagat Singh in Punjab two decades before this. Around the Martyrdom Day, viz. March 23, Bhaaji would hit the streets of East Punjab with his cultural troupe since the 1980s.

Bhaaji used street theatre as the medium to spread ideas for change and he dipped his ideas for change in the earthy wit of Punjab. His enduring fame was created by Bhai Manna Singh – a play that was telecast from the Jalandhar station of Doordarshan for more than a year between 1985-86. Bhai Manna Singh is a character who stands for reason amidst slippery social climbers and cunning power brokers. Some thought it was a character Bhaaji represented in his daily life.

The Green Revolution produced economic development in East Punjab. But this growth came with a cultural lag. Bhaaji put this dilemma beautifully. ‘Just a few feet away from Punjab’s flourishing modern agricultural fields exists an impoverished culture. This culture is full of fear for the weak and packed with ethical deprivation for the strong.’ The son of a famous doctor in pre-Partition Punjab, Bhaaji took a Master’s degree in Chemistry. From 1961, he earned his livelihood for twenty years as a cement technologist with the Canal and Irrigation department of Punjab Government. He contributed to the research of strengthening the bunds of reservoirs like Bhakhra. His social conscience bid him to oppose the Emergency (1975-77) and he was promptly jailed for it.

A man of immense sensitivity, Bhaaji observed keenly and expressed vividly. One dark day at the height of the Khalistan movement in 1987, we sat huddled in a meeting of one Democratic Forum at a small hall in Patiala. The Khalistanis were called people without a just cause by one speaker and condemned for bloodletting without meaning by another. As the chairperson of that meeting, Bhaaji rose to speak at the end.
‘I oppose Khalistan due to two simple reasons stemming from experience. I have seen the Partition of united Punjab. I was a good player of hockey in college and was habituated to good cheer. But after seeing the bloodshed and listening to all those horror stories then, I have not laughed whole-heartedly ever since 1947. Secondly, I oppose Khalistan because I have two daughters and these fellows have no program for the future. All they are doing is making vulnerable people more insecure. And all they will do is ask women to cover their head or even face, stay home and live like caged birds. I cannot approve this.’

Though all of us had spoken our minds as frankly as we could, Bhaaji had spoken from his heart truthfully. He carried the day.

My first encounter with Bhaaji was in 1985. Navsharan, the elder of his two daughters, and I were colleagues at a research institute in Chandigarh. On my request, he carried a pair of blankets for me from Amritsar to Chandigarh. He lived in Amritsar amidst his big joint family, large theatre group called Amritsar Natak Kala Kender and larger group of fans. I learnt much later that Amritsar was as much well known for Bhaaji as it was for its woollen goods and the Golden Temple. Somewhere it hurts my conscience that I saddled a man of his stature with a domestic chore like buying a pair of blankets in Amritsar, carrying them 300 kms away to Chandigarh in an ordinary bus and delivering them to a lout like me. Who said great men do not do ordinary chores?

Bhupendra Yadav teaches History in Rohtak University.

From Amarjit Chandan

Poetry and the State – London UK – Sept 20/11

From 6.30PM
On Tuesday 20th September 2011
At Amnesty International UK
17-25 New Inn Yard
London EC2A 3EA
The event will start promptly at 7pm

Poet in the City and Amnesty International are delighted to invite you to an evening celebrating the launch of the new edition of Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry and the State.

From the beginning, poetry has been the great communicator. In every protest, conflict and movement of oppression, voices have risen through the crowd and found expression in its fearless form. Whether personal or political, poetry is a public statement with a universal reach.

The event will be hosted by David Constantine and Helen Constantine, co-editors of Modern Poetry in Translation. Both are experienced and widely published translators in their own right and David is an acclaimed poet and short story writer.

Guest speakers will include the poets Amarjit Chandan and Jennie Feldman, writer Tim Allen and translator Zuzanna Olszewska, and Amnesty?s new poet in residence Carlos Reyez Manzo.

Poet in the City is a registered charity committed to attracting new audiences to poetry, making new connections for poetry, and raising money to support poetry education, in particular the placing of poets in schools.

Charity Commission number 1117354,
Company limited by guarantee 05819413.
For more information about the charity telephone 07908 367488
Website at
Or write to Poet in the City
c/o Cathy Galvin/Anmar Frangoul
News International
3 Thomas More Square, London E98 1XY.

MF Husain’s Last Journey: Photos

Exile is an illness that not even death can cure – for how
can you rest in soil that did not nourish you?

Paul Tabori, Hungarian poet

MF Husain was buried in the presence of his family in Woking England on 10th June 2011.

Earlier his funeral service was held in a Shia mosque in Tooting South London.

Pallbearers: on right one of Husain’s four sons

Photos by Amarjit Chandan

Seminar on five important issues of East Punjab today, Ludhiana May 15/11

We, from the Jeevey Punjab, cordially invite you to attend a seminar on the five important issues of East Punjab today that require immediate attention of government policy makers, public and non-governmental organisations.

 Farmers’ Indebtedness and their Suicides
 GM Crops/Organic Farming
 Water Pollution and Depletion
 Power Crisis
 Immigrant Workers: their Contribution to Punjab Economy and their Problems

Punjabi Bhavan Ludhiana
Sunday May 15, 2011
2.00 PM

Academics and representatives of major political parties and farmers’ grass-roots organisations
Mr Sardara Singh Johal, Ex-VC Punjabi University
Dr Darshan Singh, Tatla Centre of Migration Studies
Professor Manjit Singh, Panjab University
Dr Pavan Malhotra, Punjab Agriculture University (PAU)
Mr Umendra Dutt Kheti, Virãsat Mission
Dr Hargopal Singh PAU
Er Rajan Aggarwal PAU
Er Jaswant Singh Zafar, Punjab State Power Corp.
Mr Maheshinder Singh Grewal, Akali leader
Mr Manish Tiwari, Member Parliament Congress
Bhupinder Sãmbhar, CPI Leader
Lehmbar Singh Taggar, Sec Punjab Kisan Sabha
Darshan Khatkar, CPI-ML leader
Darshan Singh Kuhli, Bharati Kisan Ekta Union
Sukhwinder, Jan Chetna (Migrant workers body) et al.

Sukhchain Singh PhD
75, Ashapuri, Aggar Nagar, Ludhiana 141012
M: 095010-16407

Amarjit Chandan

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Jeevey Punjab logo designed by Prem Singh and Gurvinder Singh