In one the many films on his life, celebrated art critic and author John Berger reads out a poem titled “Lassan”.
In one the many films on his life, celebrated art critic and author John Berger reads out a poem titled “Lassan”. He says he doesn’t know the poet who sent him his poems. He only knows that he is a Punjabi and that “lassan” in Punjabi means garlic.
A year later, in 1995, Amarjit Chandan walked up to him during a book release function in London and told him, “I am the one who wrote the poem ‘Lassan’.” Thereafter, Berger was to read each of Chandan’s poems. Berger died on Monday. He was 90.
“John Berger is my hero, my ‘murshid’… I have written many poems directly inspired by his insights I used as epigraphs. He was the first reader of my poems and he always came back with generous praise or with suggestions in one instance,” Chandan says.
Berger, whose essay “Ways of Seeing” changed the way art was looked at, was also a Booker Prize winner.
Berger had also penned the preface to Chandan’s bilingual book on Punjabi poetry, “Sonata for Four Hands”. He wrote: “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 recognise.”
“Lassan” was not Berger’s first Punjab connection. That probably was a 1965 film on Chandigarh in the making by Swiss director Alain Tanner. The film titled “Une Ville à Chandigarh — Le Corbusier”, shooting for which began a year after the death of Le Corbusier, had commentary by Berger. According to distributors Trigon Film, “John Berger’s commentary inscribes the visual beauty of that reality within a larger reflection: climate did strongly influence the decisions of the planners, whereas the new city did not succeed in breaking the old social rules with a single blow.”
The author and art critic would also feature in National-Award-winning director Gurvinder Singh’s travelogue film “Awaazan” on Chandan’s journey to meet his friends in East Punjab. (Gurvinder also made a sketch for Berger’s Collected Poems). He hopes to end his film with Berger. That would perhaps be the pioneering art critic’s last connection with Punjab.
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