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

Download PDF

Jeevey Punjab logo designed by Prem Singh and Gurvinder Singh


‘Rabba Sachiã’ by Faiz in English

Rabba Sachiã My True God

A Punjabi poem by

Faiz Ahmad Faiz

My true God, it was you who said:
‘Go Man. Go forth and be King of the World’
All my bounties belong to you
You shall be my anointed and appointed on Earth.

Having given false promises
Have you ever stopped to ask
What happened to this poor soul?
What this world has done to your king?

Here, the excesses of Police and State
There, the extortions of Revenue collectors
My bones shake in this tortured frame
Like the shrieks of a crane, ensnared.
What a great King you made of me Lord
Insulted, humiliated, beaten with shoes

I don’t hanker for a kingdom my Lord
Just a piece of bread with dignity
I don’t need castles and mansions
Just a nook to shelter my head

Let’s strike a deal
If you heed me, your every command I’ll obey
And if this bargain doesn’t suit you
Then I’ll go and seek another God.

Translated from the original in Punjabi by
Sudha Bhuchar and Amarjit Chandan

For Poet in the City event, London. 17 Jan 2011

Poet in the City: Faiz Ahmed Faiz – 17th Jan, London UK

An event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, one of the most prominent poets of the Indian sub-continent, who wrote in both Urdu and Punjabi, and whose humane work was filled with love, dignity and resistance to injustice.

This spectacular event will feature:
Javed Majeed, distinguished professor of postcolonial studies at Queen Mary, University of London, and an expert on Urdu poetry, who will provide a biographical introduction and will speak about Faiz’s great contributions to poetry and to world culture.
Poems by Faiz will be read in the original language and in translation:
In Urdu: Senior journalist, Saqlain Imam who now works for the BBC’s Urdu World Service in London
In English: Actress and playwright Sudha Bhuchar, Artistic Director at Tamasha Theatre company
In Punjabi: Renowned Punjabi poet and translator, Amarjit Chandan whose latest book is ‘Sonata for Four Hands’.

Musical settings of Faiz poems will be performed by Swati Natekar, a renowned vocalist from a hereditary musical family in Mumbai, accompanied by distinguished tabla player Hanif Khan.

From 6.30pm on Monday 17 January 2011
Hall One at Kings Place
90 York Way, London N1 9AG

How to buy tickets
Booking now open online, by phone or in person from the Kings Place box office:
Tickets cost £9.50 if booked online via
Otherwise tickets cost £11.50.
Box Office 020 7520 1490

For enquiries relating to your booking please contact
To check ticket availability please use the online booking service.
For general enquiries or comments, please use our online feedback form or email

This event is presented by Poet in the City in partnership with the friends of Faiz Ahmed Faiz

Faiz by Sadeqain

Faiz, Ghalib and Iqbal by MF Husain


‘Revealing the Invisible Heritage of Panjab’, Panjab Digital Library

Appeal for Support

‘What if you could give a book to the entire world? Well, now you can when you Adopt a Book for digitization through the Panjab Digital Library. Your simple, generous gift comes with the promise that a piece of history will be globally available forever.

About Panjab Digital Library (PDL)
‘We continue to preserve Panjab’s heritage for future generations. Today you can view one million pages free at To date, PDL has digitally preserved more than five million pages of manuscripts, books, newspapers, magazines and photographs.

‘But we can’t keep it up without you, our supporters around the world. Will you join with others today who are dedicated to preserving the stories and truths of Panjab? Individual donations in support of our work is the best way to help in protecting the data for perpetuity.

‘You can also support PDL’s work through a direct donation to the organization. You will be amazed at how far even a few dollars today could go toward ensuring the strength of PDL’s work in 2011!

‘Your one US dollar ($1) helps us locate, digitize, publish online and preserve 4 pages

Archives Digitized
Kurukshetra University
Panjab Languages Department
Government Museum Chandigarh
Shiromani Gurduara Parbandhak Committee
Delhi Sikh Gurduara Management Committee

Let us preserve what remains

‘Panjab Digital Library was recognized as the “Best E-Content in Culture & Heritage”
of South Asia – 2010

‘All donations are tax-deductible in the US and Canada where Sikh Research Institute is accepting them on behalf of PDL.’

Panjab Digital Library
#867, Sector 64, SAS Nagar
Panjab – 160065
South Asia: +91-981-411-3047
North America: +1-210-704-7096

Great news for Canadian Punjabis!

Navtej Bharti [left] and Ajmer Rode, Ottawa May 2007
Photo by Manjit S Chatrik

Bhai Baldeep Singh brings us another good news. Two Punjabi Canadians poets, Navtej Bharti and Ajmer Rode, have been chosen for the Anād Kāv Sanmān 2010.

Poet Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki has been conferred the Anād Sanmān for the year 2010.

Based in India, these lifetime achievement awards were initiated by Anad Foundation in 2008 to commemorate the life and works of Punjabi poet Bibi Baljit Kaur Tulsi. The first poet honored was Surjit Patar in 2008, and last year, Uddari’s very own Amarjit Chandan received the award.

Bhai Anad has published more information about the poetry festival and the award here.

Congratulations to Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki, Navtej Bharti and Ajmer Rode, and to their families and communities in India, Canada and elsewhere.

Fauzia Rafique

Contact Uddari

‘Anād Kāv Sanmān in Memory of Punjabi Poet Baljit Kaur Tulsi’ by Bhai Anad

September 26, 2010

Since April 2008, The Anād Foundation has organized the poetry festival Anād Kāv Tarang. To honour the sweet memory of the Punjabi poetess Bibi Baljit Kaur Tulsi, the Anad Foundation started Anād Kāv Tarang Poetry festival and Anād Kāv Sanmān in 2008. The award, offered to eminent poets by the Tulsi Family, includes a cash prize of Rupees 2.5 lacs, a citation, a silver plate and a shawl or a turban.

The famous Punjabi poet, Surjit Patar, was the first recipient of this prestigious award conferred, on behalf of the Anad Foundation, by Dr. Upinderjit Kaur, Cabinet Minister Punjab, on April 8, 2008 at Stein Auditorium, India Habitat Centre. On that occasion, eminent poets Balraj Komal, K Satchidanandan, Anamika and Ashok Vajpayee recited their poems.

Amarjeet Chandan, was the second recipient of the Anād Kāv Sanmān in 2009 for his seminal contribution to Punjabi poetry and for bringing Punjabi poetry on the international scene. Professor Namvar Singh, Professor Emeritus, Jawahar Lal University and Chancellor, Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishvavidyalaya, presided over the Anād Kāv Tarañg 2009 and launched Paintee, selected 35 poems by Chandan. Krishen Khanna, the painter, was very kind in accepting our humble request to be the Chief Guest and for conferring the Anad Kav Sanman 2009.

Anād Kāv Sanmān Jury
2008-09 till 2010-11
Chairperson: Professor Satyapal Gautam
Officiating Chairperson: Professor Bhagvan Josh
1. Professor Satyapal Gautam, Vice Chancellor, Mahatama Jyotiba Phule Rohelkhand University, Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh) philosopher and critic
2. Professor Bhagvan Josh, Professor and Chair, Centre of Historical Studies, JNU, leading historian and commentator
3. Professor Renuka Singh, Associate Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems
4. Dr. Madan Gopal Singh, Senior Fellow, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House, New Delhi, and cultural activist and commentator
5. M. K. Raina, leading theatre director, film maker and cultural activist
6. Manglesh Dabral, leading Hindi poet and journalist

Anād Sanmān 2006
Citation: Honouring Bhai Avtar Singh, Bhai Gurcharan Singh
Bhai Avtar Singh and Bhai Gurcharan Singh are of those rare ones who through their radiance remind us of the vastness of which we are a part.
They have traveled the globe to carry the Guru’s message of joy and serenity through sacred music that flows from their rich oral intangible heritage.
Steeped in tradition, they have remained open to the needs of the changing times and have responded with a monumental collection of recordings and published documentation.
With artistic craftsmanship, unwavering stability, gracious humility and selfless service, they have lived as representatives of the Guru’s darbar, and have left a legacy to ensure that the treasures they have cared for will remain for the generations of seekers who follow.
With heartfelt gratitude for a lifetime of service to humanity
through your music, inspiration and love
Anad Foundation presents
Anād Sanmān 2006
Bhai Avtar Singh Ragi and Bhai Gurcharan Singh Ragi
This 16th day of October, 2006
Delhi, India

Anād Kāv Sanmān 2008
Citation: Honouring Surjit Patar
Surjit Patar Ji, you have made a significant contribution to the advancement of Punjabi literary heritage by making Punjabi Poetry a companion of contemporary times.
The partitioned Punjab of 1947, people longing for social justice, oppression of women, migration of millions of Punjabis and induction of workers from outside Punjab, alienation of Punjabis from their land, environs, language and self-identity – are the themes which have found a voice in your poetry.
You have enriched and embellished Punjabi poetry by bringing it closer to the people. Your poetry is a sensitive expression and document of the joys, sorrows and aspirations of Punjabis.
As a recognition and appreciation of
your dedicated service to your mother-language Punjabi
Anād Foundation
today, Tuesday, the Eighth day of April the year 2008 AD
feels honoured in presenting you
Surjit Patar Ji
Anād KāV Sanmān
with gratitude

Anād Kāv Sanmān 2009
Citation: Honouring Amarjit Chandan
Punjab has been the land of poetry since times immemorial. You, Mr Amarjit Chandan, have contributed substantially in carrying this rich poetic legacy forward.
Your writing throbs with the collective cultural heritage of the united Punjab. You have been blessed with the gift of the word. You have nurtured this gift with an abiding adherence to a simplicity of expression, a deeply felt compassion and a disciplined diction.
In your entire oeuvre – encompassing both poetry and prose – the reader experiences a purity of being. It is indeed an achievement to have coined a new literary idiom so unique and pure. You do not just write with language, you write with an authorial style.
Suffused with the resonance of the sky, earth and the unknown, your creations are distinct in their essence. The universe you create in words is wondrously aesthetic in its elegance and beautiful in its humane warmth.
Delving deep within the self, you have reflectively invoked the folk, the Sufic and the Gurbani traditions assimilating their philosophy and vision in a contemporary idiom.
In your writings, the division between philosophy and poetry dissolves even as the world of Punjabi cultural memory opens up in a spontaneous and gentle evocation.
Your poetry celebrates the spirit of the entire humanity and effortlessly traverses across cultures.
The manner in which your poetry expresses and affirms the human and material relations is a signpost in the history of Punjabi literature.
The innate simplicity with which you have represented the Punjabi language is a great achievement of your creativity.
Your poetry has decisively earned an international space for your mother tongue, the Punjabi language, in the comity of world literature.
Recognizing the inimitable service rendered by you to literature and to your mother tongue,
the Anad Foundation on this day,
the 22nd of November 2009,
in New Delhi,
confers upon you in humility and with gratitude the Anad Kav Sanman in memory of Bibi Baljit Kaur Tulsi.

From Bhai Baldeep’s facebook page

Contact Uddari

Santokh Singh Dhir 1920–2010

By Amarjit Chandan

Santokh Singh Dhir, who has died aged 90, was a major Punjabi writer and one of our last links with the second generation of grandees.

Dhir was born to a Sikh father and a Hindu mother. His life was a hard struggle raising a large family. He started to work as a tailor, but soon left tailoring to work as a journalist for Preet Lari ਪ੍ਰੀਤ ਲੜੀ, a progressive Punjabi monthly and the daily Nawan Zamana ਨਵਾਂ ਜ਼ਮਾਨਾ of the Punjab communist party. But journalism again was a temporary stitch; he became a full-time writer and survived on writing alone for the greater part of his life. From Bhasha Vibhag Punjab to Sahitya Akademy Delhi name any Punjabi literary award Dhir and had it. He was a member of the (East) Punjab communist party’s state council.

Known for his eccentricities he survived in his later life on state grants and friends’ generosity. Punjabi University, Guru Nanak Dev University and Punjabi Sahit Sabha Delhi had awarded him life fellowships.

Dhir once had to go to Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki for psychological treatment. Both were poets and close friends but were diametrically opposed in their political views. While Dhir was a die-hard communist, Neki was and is a metaphysical poet and a staunch anti-communist. Dhir wrote a poem titled Ikk Beemār A Patient [to his Doctor]. It goes like this: Doctor, have you got answers to the worldly aspects of human existence? Do you know that an unending wrestling match is going on between Mr Yes and Mr No. The poet however did not tell the doctor who wins ultimately and who the referee was.

Punjabis are insensitive to mental health issues and for that matter Dhir was ridiculed and joked about in Punjabi literary circles. The raised finger of his right hand always trying to make a point became his trade mark. Despite his limited means he was always immaculately dressed and put surma kohl in his eyes. Gargi titled his book of literary sketches as Surmey vāli Akkh after Dhir before he made phone calls to Amrita Pritam, that is, on whom he had a brief crush.

Dhir’s short stories Koi Ik Sawār ਕੋਈ ਇਕ ਸਵਾਰ, Sānjhi Kandh ਸਾਂਝੀ ਕੰਧ, Savér Hoņ Tak ਸਵੇਰ ਹੋਣ ਤਕ, Măngo ਮੰਗੋ are his masterpieces and world classics. Baru the hero of Koi Ik Sawār inspired me to write a poem on him and Dhir. The story’s three English translations exist done by Khushwant Singh, Amrik Singh and Balwant Gargi. A TV film was made on it but Dhir did not like the film. His short autobiographical novel Yādgār ਯਾਦਗਾਰ (1979) on the theme of platonic love is written ‘with light with utmost restraint’ as Harbhajan Singh the poet put it. Touched by it I wrote an essay on his classic poem Nikki saleti saRhak da tota ਨਿੱਕੀ ਸਲੇਟੀ ਸੜਕ ਦਾ ਟੋਟਾ which was linked with the novel. Dhir later included it as a prologue in its third edition.

His early collections of poems Guddiyān Pottelai ਗੁੱਡੀਆਂ ਪਟੋਲੇ (1944), Pauhfutala ਪਹੁਫੁਟਾਲਾ (1948), Dharti Mangdee MeehiN Ve ਧਰਤੀ ਮੰਗਦੀ ਮੀਂਹ ਵੇ (1952), Pat Jhharhey Puran*ey ਪੱਤ ਝੜੇ ਪੁਰਾਣੇ (1955) and Birharhey ਬਿਰਹੜੇ (1960) and his short fiction collections Chhittiān de ChhaweiN ਛਿੱਟਿਆਂ ਦੀ ਛਾਵੇਂ (1950), Savér Hoņ Tak ਸਵੇਰ ਹੋਣ ਤਕ (1955) and SāNjhi KaNdh ਸਾਂਝੀ ਕੰਧ (1958) are full of verve. It is a treat to read his early work written in musical Puādhi Punjabi dialect and in the diction close to folklore.

After Dhir reached middle age, he lost the verve in his writing. The style turned dry, bland and somewhat loud. His close friends Balwant Gargi and Gurcharan Rampuri concurred with me.

Unlike his contemporary Punjabi Marxist writers, he wrote about sex without any inhibition. But later revised one of his novels Sharabi ਸ਼ਰਾਬੀ (1963) expunging sexually explicit parts in its second edition renamed Do Phul ਦੋ ਫੁੱਲ. This kind of self-censorship is unprecedented.

A few months ago Dhir asked me to preface his last collection of poems Kodhrey dee Roti da Mahān Geet ਕੋਧਰੇ ਦੀ ਰੋਟੀ ਦਾ ਮਹਾਨ ਗੀਤ. I felt honoured. But none of the poems touched me and I politely declined his invitation.

I felt sad when I last met him in the end of last December at his Mohali home. He was lying low. I tried to cheer him up telling jokes but he did not respond.

His four daughters and a son survive him. His family has given his body to the Post Graduate Medical Institute (PGI) Chandigarh for scientific research. This gesture was most probably made according to his will but I find it a bit sentimental. There is no dearth of unidentified bodies in Indian medical institutions. Dhir deserved a dignified funeral befitting his stature.

Santokh Singh Dhir, Punjabi writer born Bassi Pathana District Patiala December 2, 1920, died Chandigarh February 8, 2010

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Poet Amarjit Chandan wins the Anad Kāv Sanman 2009


The meeting of the jury for the Anad Kav Sanman 2009 took place in Delhi on 25th October 2009. The jury members for the award, Shri M.K Raina, Professor Bhagwan Josh, Professor Renuka Singh, Dr. Madan Gopal Singh, Bhai Baldeep Singh, Shri Manglesh Dabral attended the meeting chaired by Professor Satyapal Gautam. The jury unanimously decided that this year’s Anad Kāv Sanman be conferred on Amarjit Chandan for his seminal contribution to Punjabi poetry and for bringing Punjabi poetry on the international scene.

This is the only literary award of its kind in South Asia that exclusively celebrates poetic excellence. It is also amongst the biggest awards in terms of money.

Punjabi poet Surjit Patar was the first recipient of this award last year.

To honour the memory of the Punjabi poetess Baljit Kaur Tulsi, The Anād Foundation started Anad Kāv Tarang Poetry festival and Anad Kāv Sanman in 2008. The award, offered to eminent poets, includes a cash prize of Rupees 2.5 lacs, a citation, a silver plate and a turban.

The leading English author and art critic John Berger opined that Amarjit Chandan’s poetry transports its listeners or readers into an arena of timelessness. What he does is to fold time; time in his poems becomes like an arras or a hinged screen. The listener or reader is encircled by a multiplicity of times. His poetic practice assumes that there are more space-time dimensions than the four we habitually recognize. Each of Chandan’s poems proceeds in its own way and has its own form. Yet in all of them there is an assembly of different space-time dimensions.

According to Christina Linardakis, a well known literary critic from Greece, the pictures of Chandan’s poetry are lacking of anything pretentious. On the contrary, they are surprisingly intimate. They portray our own moments, they capture our thoughts, they express our dreams, the contradictions of our mind. Never the less, Chandan’s descriptive power is sublimating, the detail of their reference is depriving the reader’s right of an adroit escape, it holds out his hand disarmingly, it guides him through unusual and familiar paths.

In his poetic speech, Chandan is weaving and unweaving his impressions, the perceptions, the memories of each one of us, weaving in this manner mainly the thread of our own thought and of our own life.

Amarjit Chandan has published five collections of poetry including Kavitavān, Jarhān, Beejak, Chhanna, Gurhti and Anjal, as well three books of prose in Punjabi notably Phailsufiān, Hun–Khin (A discussion with Sohan Qadri) and Nishāni.

English versions of Amarjit Chandan’s poems have appeared in England in a collection Being Here (1995, 1999, 2005) and magazines Poetry Review, Artrage, Bazaar, Brand, Critical Quarterly, Modern Poetry in Translation, Index on Censorship and Atlas (UK), Papirus and Akköy (Turkey), Erismus, Ombrela and Odos Panos (Greece) and Lettre Internationale (Romania) and Sonata for Four Hands, Collection of Poems (Arc Publications) prefaced by John Berger due in Oct 2009.

The ANĀD Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of culture, with particular focus on the preservation and perpetuation of the endangered intangible cultural heritage and traditions of South Asia. The ANĀD Foundation’s mission is to establish institutions as a means towards facilitating the recovery and enhancement of the intangible (sukham virsā) and tangible (sthūl virsā) heritage of South Asia as a priority.

Among the several aims of the Foundation include conferring ANĀD Sanmān, in the fields of poetry, music, dance, sports, science, technology, art, literature, theatre, cinema and handicrafts, etc. and for life time achievements in fields that the Trust is directly or indirectly concerned with.

The Anād Foundation is organizing the second edition of the festival Anād Kāv Tarang, an evening of poetry reading scheduled to be held on Sunday, November 22, 2009, at the India Islamic Cultural Centre, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi. A selection of Chandan’s 35 poems titled Paintee, designed by Gurvinder Singh and published by ANĀD, will also be released on the occasion. The function will conclude with musical renditions of Chandan’s poetry by Jasbir Jassi, Madan Gopal Singh, Rabbi Shergill, Sunanda Sharma and Bhai Baldeep Singh.

For further information, contact
The Anad Foundation
C-26, Nizamuddin East
New Delhi 110013
Telephone (Bhai Baldeep Singh) 9810002653
Email: and/or

Press Release

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Lahore’s First Punjabi Bookstore Deemed Shut

Kitab Trinjan (KT), the first dedicated shop of Punjabi books in Lahore, is due to close end of this month.

Kitab Trinjan was established in 1997 to encourage the publishing and dissemination of Shahmukhi Punjabi literature in a situation where Punjabi books were shunned away by the ‘regular’ bookshops that were happy instead to sell the more ‘lucrative/prestigious’ Urdu and English books. With regard to the privilege enjoyed by English and Urdu at the regular book shops, however, the situation in 2009 remains more or less the same.

In the last 12 years, thanks to the continuous and ongoing volunteer work of Zubair Ahmed Jan, Kitab Trinjan has sold more than 1,200,000 (12 Lakh) Punjabi books; bought 7,71,635 books from other publishers; published works created by modern Punjabi writers under various imprints; but most of all, has built a cultural community unique to itself. This community is built by extending regular interaction, support and contribution to literary communities of the Punjab, Panjab and the Diaspora. Zubair’s ongoing support to Sangat Shah Hussain in Lahore, to the online Punjabi news and cultural digest, to the largest online archive of Punjabi Gurumukhi/Shahmukhi literature Apnaorg, to the only Punjabi literary quarterly magazine that prints simultaneously in Gurumukhi and Shahmukhi Temahi Sanjh, for example, has strengthened the respective organizations and cultural communities.

I had the opportunity to visit Kitab Trinjan in its very first year when Activist Zafaryab Ahmed told me in Islamabad about it, and later introduced me to Author Zubair Ahmed who was instrumental in establishing, and then managing it. Later, i went to the shop, a 1.4-roomed top floor of a depleted inner city building in Lahore, though inside, it was the most inspiring place to be. In fact, that was the first time that i had actually seen hundreds of Shahmukhi Punjabi titles in one place. It created a feeling of wonderment where i was enchanted also by the fact that the development of Punjabi literature was not in the hands of policymakers of Pakistan but us, the writers and readers of Punjabi.

Here is a 1998 photo of Kitab Trinjan from the outside, taken by Amarjit Chandan, a long time supporter of KT.

Kitab Trinjan. Lahore..1999. Pic Amarjit Chandan(2)

Detail, Kitab Trinjan by Amarjit Chandan, 1998

In 2006 and 2007, i found Kitab Trinjan in a newer, bigger and brighter place. It was doubtless the most well-organized and well-managed book shop of the three Punjabi book sellers on and around Mozang Chowk since Zubair had help from KT’s only paid worker, Ghulam Haider who worked as a full time sales associate.

The following are the reasons given for the closure of Kitab Trinjan: That there were no Punjabi book stores in 1997 and now there are two more that are operating as full time businesses; That there is duplication of services between Suchet Kitab Ghar and Kitab Trinjan; That KT is limited by its voluntary nature; and, that Zubair Ahmad, the Volunteer Manager of KT, wants to focus on his creative work.

The above reasons do not jell with me as they defy all logic; and in that, it seems that this decision is taken for the benefit of less than half a dozen people instead of the benefit of even those 6,896,000 Punjabis who were living in the city of Lahore just after Kitab Trinjan first opened its doors. In the 1998 Census, the total population of Lahore was counted as 6.8 Million, however, later estimates indicate that the population of Lahore was 10 million in 2006.

My problem is as follows:
The first reason encourages us to believe, in defiance of all demographic considerations, that perhaps there are no Punjabi speakers in the additional 3.2 Million people that were counted as living in Lahore in 2006; that may be there is no increase in the city population since 2006; or if the population increased it did no sprout any new buyers of Punjabi books; that there are no new students of Punjabi language; and, certainly no new lovers of Punjabi literature. Else, the simple fact of population increase would have been enough to justify the continued existence of, at least, these three Punjabi book stores. In other words, such reasoning suggests that 3 BOOK STORES are too many for 6 to 8 MILLION Punjabi speakers of Lahore.

The second reason perpetuates confusion as it meddles with the roles of Suchet Kitab Ghar a Publisher of books and magazines who operates as a distributor/retailer to support its primary role as a Publisher; and Kitab Trinjan, a Bookseller/Distributor who has published books only on occasion.

The third and the fourth reasons are issues that can easily be resolved by Zubair himself if given the chance. Having an outlet for Punjabi books at his home in one of the suburbs of Lahore will eliminate the daily hardship, and leave more time for creative work.

I also do not share the ‘expatriate’s politically correct’ statement forwarded by my friend and another long time supporter of KT, Ijaz Syed, in his response to the closure of Lahore’s first Punjabi book shop.
‘My heartiest felicitations to the Central Committee members for taking this timely decision! Kitab Trinjan played its historical pioneering role in the publication and distribution of punjabi books at a time when this service was most needed. In my view, along with other Central Committee friends, a lot of credit for maintaining and managing Kitab Trinjan for these twelve long years rightly goes to Zubair Jan. Of course, none of this would have happened without Najam Sahab‘s benevolent presence.’

In accordance with the ‘enlightened expatriate’s politically correct guide’, a non-critical acceptance and appreciation of this decision has duly been tendered by Ijaz, else, why would he call it a ‘timely decision’? Is it really the requirement of this time to close one of the three (progressive) Punjabi book centers in Lahore?
I think it’s time to relocate this one, and open the fourth.
Tell you why.
When Kitab Trinjan was selling an average of 1 lakh books per year, Suchet Kitab Ghar and Sanjh Publications were also registering sales, I am willing to bet on it! So, if in the last 12 years, all three have shown an increase in sales, i don’t see why Kitab Trinjan needs to shut. Also, if the establishment of a sales/distribution center by Suchet Kitab Ghar (and Sanjh) did not have a negative impact on Kitab Trinjan, why now, Kitab Trinjan needs to be eliminated in the interest of one or both?

Maqsood Saqib of Pancham/Suchet and Amjad Salim of Sanjh Publications have, for different reasons, earned my un-wavering respect and love as people and professionals; and, i fully support the work of both. The same, may be more so, is true for Zubair Ahmad of Kitab Trinjan.

In other words, Bawa Jees te Bawi Jees, please do not be presenting Lahore in such narrow terms. The City and its people need and deserve all three of these wonderful spaces to develop Punjabi literature; and still, a few more. Not less!

Fauzia Rafique

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