By Amrita Sharma
A shayar (poet) who received exceptional fame, a poet who became the youngest recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award and a star who left too early at a young age of 36, Shiv Kumar Batalvi remains one of those few poets who lived and died within the embrace of poetic charm. Being an immensely popular poet during his lifetime who wrote in one of the Indian regional languages, Punjabi, he received international acclaim within a very brief span of time.
With around eight collections of poems to his credit and as a performer who read and sang his verses across innumerable public gatherings, Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-1973) remains a popular subject for critical writings ranging from doctoral thesis to popular magazines. Born on July 23, 1936, in a village, named Bara Pind Lohtian, situated in the northern part of pre-partition Punjab, Batalvi spent a peaceful childhood until his family migrated to India after Partition. As a young man in his twenties, writing in the 1960s, a period marked by a new force of modernity across the world, Batalvi’s verses ranged over a vast canvas of themes and wanderings. Though largely remembered as a love poet who was fascinated with death and grief, he wrote prolifically on subjects that even remained unconventional and anti-stereotypical for his time.
As the month of May marked the time of the year when Batalvi breathed his last, this article is a revisit to his poetic style that commemorates and celebrate his poetic vibrancy. Perhaps one of his most popular compositions remains his song titled “Ki PuCHde Ho Haal FakeeraaN Da” (The Condition Of Fakirs) that opens with the following lines that grew immensely popular with his performances:
Ki puCHdiyo ho haal fakeeraaN da SaaDa nadiyoN viCHRe neeraaN da. SaaDa haNjh di joone aaiyaaN da SaaDa dil jaleyaaN dilgeeraaN da! Why ask about the condition of fakirs like us? We are water, separated from its river, Emerged from a tear, Melancholy, distressed!
With a poetic sensibility that remained enchanting with its rhythmic flow and vigour, Batalvi may be credited with enriching his first language with poetic compositions that captured its cultural essence. While not losing out on the classical Punjabi style, he wrote songs that were cast in a traditional tone and yet remained a part of the emerging modern verse. For instance, the following lines from his poem “Vidhva Ruht” (“Widowed Season”) read as follows:
Is ruhte sab rukh nipatare Mahik-vihoone Is ruhte saaDe sukh de sooraj SekoN oone. Maae ni par vidhva joban Hor vi loone. Haae ni E loona joban ki kareeya? Maae ni is vidhva rut da ki kareeye? In this season the trees are leafless, Without fragrance. In this season, the sun of my happiness Has no warmth. But even more bitter Is my widowed youth. Tell me, What should I do With this bitter youth.
With suffering and its accompanying emotions remaining closest to Batalvi’s poetic outlook, he carved verses that spoke to his readers and listeners, thus, revisiting an oral tradition. Recreating and enticing the concept of sorrow with his love for the natural, Batalvi wrote of an optimistic vision to it in a manner of a folk song, as in his verse titled “JiNdu De BaageeN” (The Garden Of Life) where he writes:
k taaN taeNDaRe Kol kathoori, Dooje taaN dard baRe, Teeja te taeNDRa Roop suhaNdaRa GalaaN taaN milakh kare! Remember that you have The sac of musk, You also have great sorrow. Thirdly you are Beautiful, And your words are precious
Batalvi’s verses thus particularly remain memorable for his fascination with grief, pathos and pain.
Though having suffered severe critical dismissals, Batalvi nevertheless remained extremely popular with the masses. Majority of his compositions have been now cast into songs by numerous popular singers on both sides of the border within the Indian subcontinent. Having lived a life that often became a subject of social critique and having died at a very young age due to failing health, Batalvi perhaps remains a singularly unique poet who lived and died with the unconventionality of his poetic romance.
While India faces a surge in the outbreak of the Covid 19 virus, we continue to alternate between emotions of anxiety and grief. Poetry by Batalvi encapsulates within itself a range of emotions that contain the charm of enticing an entire tradition of such alternating emotions, it remains endearing to remember such poets today. Difficult times as those we face today may serve to strengthen our faith in the capacity of literature that helps us look beyond our immediate surroundings. Recalling Batalvi’s poetry, I would like to end by leaving you with the following lines by him:
Ih mera geet dharat toN maela Sooraj jeD puraana. KoT janam toN piya asaanu Is da bol haNDHaana. Hor kise di jaah na koi Is nu hoNTHeeN laana, Ih taaN mere naal janmeya Naal bahishteeN jaana This song more soiled than the earth, As old as the sun, For many births I have had to live The weight of its words. No one else is able To bring voice to it. This song was born with me, And will die with me.
(The texts for the poems and their translations were taken from http://apnaorg.com/poetry/suman/index.html)
Amrita Sharma is a Lucknow based writer currently pursuing her Ph.D. in English from the University of Lucknow. Her works have previously been published in various online forums.Her area of research includes avant-garde poetics and innovative writings in the cyberspace.
PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL