Amarjit Chandan/United Kingdom, 1946
Amarjit Chandan (1946, Nairobi Kenya) lives and works in London. He has published six collections of poetry, and five books of essays in Punjabi. Bi-lingual collection Sonata for Four Hands prefaced by John Berger (Arc, 2010). Next collection Suchness (Arc) is due later this year.
He has edited and translated over thirty anthologies of poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction by, among others, Brecht, Neruda, Ritsos, Hikmet, Vallejo, Cardenal and John Berger in Punjabi.
Chandan was one of the ten British poets selected by Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, for the National Poetry Day in 2001, and has participated in the Alderburgh, Ledbury, King’s Lynn and Winchester poetry festivals and Poetry Parnassus, gathering of the world’s poets in London in July 2012.
I have never been to Gunachaur.
When I hear the word Gunachaur
something happens to me.
Mother used to talk about her distant relations
living in Gunachaur.
I used to fly there on her wings.
I felt –
Gunachaur is a place
somewhere beyond Jalandhar
near Nawān Shahar.
A light flickers in darkness seen from above.
I imagined the relations I never met.
Even now that place is not far off
It’s near quite near
Where ever I happen to be.
Imagine it is a paper.
Look at it.
It is a portrait of the earth.
See where the needle of your magnetic heart stops.
That’s it. That’s the place you always missed.
Put a dot.
Touch it with your finger tip. Softly.
Then put another, and then another till a line is formed –
The umbilical cord reconnecting.
The spot is the cartograph of your memories.
It is the wound healed.
A dot shines on the page
at the zero degree of all directions.
Here ends your returning.
You are home.
the book embodies God
blessed be the alphabet
the word blessed
blessed the scribe
the calligrapher blessed
blessed the one who contemplates
and meditates upon the word
blessed the ears
that fill with its music
blessed are the hands that touch the book
those that once caressed it
and those who will recieve it
blessed the Hand that brought it forth
blessed the animal skin
destined to be its cover
blessed the rotting pulp
that incarnated in paper
blessed be the paper
chariot of imagination soaring to the sky
blessed the ink
that gets immersed
and forms the luminous word
for whatever exists
exists in that word
blessed be the potter
who moulded the inkpot
and quill’s holy dip in ink
bless the tanner who dyed the skin
and paste and thread that bound it
blessed is the peaceful dark
of the book when closed
blessed the illumination
of its opening word
blessed be the place where it rests
the place of rendevouz
Man made the first ever paper with the skin of his soul.
That is why it is blessed.
Nanak scribbled the word on it.
May you be forever paper.
May you be forever the papermaker.
A tree is sacrificed to bear the paper.
So many nests lie in it.
All the birds’ names are inscribed on it.
In it you can hear the wet rustling of green leaves.
The paper sees with the eye of the pen.
It speaks with colours.
It hears with alphabets.
The language is the soul of the paper.
It is a piece of the sky
lying on the desk.
Even when it is burnt and reduced to ashes
the alphabets still remain.
It is a strange bird
Who has landed in my lap to rest.
It evolved out of stone.
It was tãrhpatra tree bark, the leather and the tusk.
I feel we are one family when I see the paper.
The paper is the window to the present moment in time.
It is the gateway to the possibility.
When there was no paper, poetry was there.
When there was no man, poetry was there too.
A blank paper challenges
like the woman lying naked.
It pulsates like the temples of the aroused man
and shakes like the bodies coming together.
The paper –
A kite flying for the first time
A passport of no return
The cards the prisoners play
A letter lost on the way to its destination
A newspaper of the century thrown on the street
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’d 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 doesn’t show the lump in your throat.
We’ll exchange pictures I have taken
of faces you haven’t seen
and of places you never visited
and you can show me yours taken in the valley of the dead.
1930. The people of Nakodar * are wonderstruck tonight.
In the tent a silent film is being shown
and my chacha uncle Mohan Singh plays the harmonium.
A window illuminates the wall of darkness.
The actors move their lips voiceless.
A flower blossoms, silently.
In the film when they walk it seems they are running.
People watch their dream and laugh their heart’s out.
Uncle Mohan Singh is accompanying them with his harmonium
and making the flowers blossom.
Tonight the people of Nakodar are dreaming together
* My hometown in the Punjab
the hanging light
of your eyelashes
on your cheeks
it caresses itself when it moves
a tiny bird ruffles its weightless wings
the edges of the shadow become softer
you take a long breath &
close your eyes
imagining the source of shadows
I want to rub against every part of your body
Make me your necklace
I want to be close to your jugular
As the soul wears the body
As the sound wears the word
As the seed wears the skin
As the book wears the touch of hands
As the sea wears the sky
As God wears worlds
We were making love and she said –
“You are the light of my life.”
I said: “You are the sun my source.”
Then she took me into her, saying
“A million times I have given birth to you.”
“Mother,” I asked. “Who is my father?”
“Perhaps you are your own father, self-begotten.”
And so saying she took me into the void
Where no relations exist, where there is no body.