Ajmer Rode
Ajmer Rode

Ajmer Rode  is a Canada-based Punjabi poet, playwright and translator with five volumes of poetry to his credit. He writes in Punjabi and English, and his work has been featured in literary magazines and anthologies in Canada, India and the UK. In 1994, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the state government of Punjab.

His thousand-page poetry collection, Leela, is considered a landmark volume in modern Punjabi poetry. Senior Punjabi poet, Surjit Patar, has hailed it as “one of the most important Punjabi poetry books of our century”, while leading Punjabi critic, Dr Attar Singh, believes that Rode “has quietly extended the boundaries of the Punjabi language and has given a new turn to Punjabi poetry.”

Rode was born in Punjab, and emigrated to Canada in 1966 to do his Masters at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He has since then lived on the west coast of Canada, working actively in the fields of poetry and theatre. He has played a pioneering role in Canadian Punjabi theatre, having written and directed the first Canadian Punjabi play, Dooja Passa (1977). He has written and directed nine plays, and translated poetry from English to Punjabi as well as fiction from Punjabi to English. He has been an active member of the Writers Union of Canada and the Vancouver Punjabi Writers Forum, and is the founding member of several Indo-Canadian literary and performing arts associations in Vancouver, where he currently lives. He has since 1994 been a full-time writer.

This selection includes eight of Rode’s poems, from the compressed aphoristic poem to the longer reflection which enables him to cover a range of themes, sometimes all at once — from the immigrant experience to the existential condition, from family portraits to political comment. The style is characteristically restrained, quiet and meditative.

The poems on his parents are crafted with a deceptive ease that makes them intensely personal and archetypal all at once. The old father is the ageing gentleman we all know, looking out on a street, muttering to himself, and whose face is still suddenly, miraculously illuminated like a thousand blooming mustard flowers. And the old lady who waits in her basement room for the neighbourhood dog, Rusty, is someone we know too. Her unspoken litany of woes, despite its specificity, also seems achingly familiar: “Everyone is so indifferent here,/ no one to talk with, children have no time,/ TV all English…/ this year she must go back to Punjab/ to see if everything is all right/ with our home, she must….” These poignant family poems make a more powerful statement about hyphenated identities than overt statements about cultural disjunction ever could.

I have a special favourite in this selection. It is a poem about Kalli, the six-year-old buffalo, sent to be sold in the market. She trots obediently along eight miles to the market with her master’s son and returns unsold, “with no questions in her eyes”. Her master only looks at her “like a family member/ who had missed the train”.

In poems like these, Rode reminds us of just why poetry is such a special form of literary enchantment. In just a few economical verbal strokes, it is capable of giving us a perspective, an entirely new way of seeing. The result? You are right there with the poet, the buffalo and her owner, in a Punjab village home. And nothing more — about animals, kinship, emotional bonds or cultural ethos — needs to be said.

© Arundhathi Subramaniam


English Poetry
Selected Poems, Third Eye Publications, London, Ontario, 2003. ISBN: 0-919581-76-5
Poems at my Doorstep, Caitlin Press, Vancouver, 1990. ISBN: 0-920576-31-1
Blue Meditations, Third Eye Publications, London, Ontario, 1985. ISBN: 0-919581-31-5

Punjabi Poetry

Leela, The Rainbird Press, London, Vancouver, 1999. ISBN: 0-9690504-9-6
Surti, Third Eye Publications, London, Ontario, 1979. ISBN: 0-919581-59-5. Raghbir Rachna Parkashan, Chandigarh, 1979,
Chubhchintan, Nanak Singh Pustakmala, Amritsar, 1983.

Nirlajj, Aesthetics Publications, Ludhiana, India, 2008. ISBN: 278-81-906611-2-6
Komagata Maru, Nanak Singh Pustakmala, Amritsar, India, 1983.
Dooja Passa, Nanak Singh Pustakmala, , Amritsar, India, 1981.

Vishva Di Nuhar, Punjabi University Publications, 1966, Patiala, India.


Geocities: Ajmer Rode’s website

Poets Against War : poem by Ajmer Rode.

Poets’ Corner: some of Amarjit Chandan’s translations, and some of his own poems with audio.

Wikipedia: page on Ajmer Rode. 


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