Categories
Editorial

Whispers of Stones

When the mountains and grass
had life, stones whispered
how the world came to be…

'Stonehenge', Daily Star

And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of  75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.

What would be a good way of ending such wars?

Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”

With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?

For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality. 

Our poetry section touches upon the timelessness of dissensions and darkness with Michael R Burch’s poem on Stonehenge and Supatra Sen’s poem on Ukraine. This has been allayed by love poetry by Maid Corbic from Bosnia. George Freek’s poem ruffles with its reflective lines. And in the midst of it all, is poetry by Ryan Quinn Flanagan reflecting on the seven stages of man. Will the process of aging or human nature ever change? I wonder if Rhys Hughes can find an answer for that in humorous verses as he has shared in this issue. In his column, Hughes has written about an imagined anthology of short stories.

Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.

Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.  

Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.

We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it?  Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue (2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.

We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar by Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.  

Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”.  This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolution plotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”

There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.

We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.

I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.

Thanks.

Mitali Chakravarty

borderlessjournal.com

Categories
Stories

The Bus Conductor by Dalip Kaur Tiwana

Short story by Dr. Dalip Kaur Tiwana, translated from the original Punjabi by C. Christine Fair

Dr Dalip Kaur Tiwana. Courtesy: Creative Commons

Dr. Dalip Kaur Tiwana (4 May 1935 – 31 January 2020) is recognised as one of the most consequential Punjabi authors who substantially contributed to the development of modern Punjabi literature. Prior to her death, she published twenty-seven novels, seven collections of short stories as well as a literary biography. Tiwana was also a distinguished academic. She was the first woman in the region to obtain a Ph.D. from Punjab University in 1963.  She joined the Punjabi University at Patiala from which she retired as a Dean as well as a Professor of Punjabi. Dr. Tiwana garnered innumerable regional as well as national awards within India, including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award and the Padma Shri, India’s fourth largest civilian honor. She surrendered her Padma Shri in 2015 expressing “Solidarity with other writers who are protesting against the increasing cultural intolerance in our society and politics and the threat to free speech and creative freedom.”

The Bus Conductor

Art by C Christine Fair

The lady doctor, Polly, had been transferred from Nabhe to Patiala. Her family members were trying to get the transfer rescinded. That is why, instead of taking a house and living in Patiala, she got permission from the senior doctor to come from Nabhe every morning by bus and return in the evening.

She felt ill at ease because of the shivering sound of the idling buses, the heat, the sweat, the crowds, the ludicrous indolence of the conductors, and the rude banter. Thinking to herself, “But this is just a matter of days,” she suffered it all. On the days when Jit was on duty for that bus, she would feel a bit comfortable because that conductor seemed to be good natured.

One day, a man asked Jit, “Where does that girl with the bag work?”

Jit said discretely as he was handing over the ticket, “Aho[1] sir!  She is a lady doctor. A very senior lady doctor. People say that her salary is a full three hundred rupees.”

“Sir, these days women are earning more than men. That’s why men are no longer the boss,” said the man as he sat down on a seat nearby.

“Sir, no matter what they earn, girls of a good household still must lower their eyes when they speak…and this lady doctor, I go to Patiala all the time and by god, she doesn’t even speak…,” said the Sardar who was sitting behind while gazing towards Polly.

“By god! I also….” He stopped mid-sentence when Jit, while handing the ticket to this dandy in a pink shirt, glowered at him and said, “So, brother. Do you want to go? Or should I toss you off the bus now?”

“Conductor Sir.  I didn’t anything. Why are you getting angry like this?”

While Jit was handing the ticket over to Polly, she began to give him the ten she took out.

“I don’t have any change. Forget about it and pay in full tomorrow.” Having said this, Jit moved on.

Ahead, there was elderly woman who also took out a ten. “Ma’am, I don’t have change. The entire fare is 10.5 annas[2] and you take out such a large note and hand it to me? Fine. Go and get change and then come back,” Jit said in a rather stern voice.

“Young man! In that time, the bus will have left and it’s urgent that I go.  You can return the rest of the money to me in Patiala,” the elderly woman begged of him.

“Fine, ma’am. Sit down,” he said as he began to cut her a ticket.

Polly was thinking about the hospital, all of the patients, the medicines, the nurses, and the various duties as the bus left behind Rakhra, then Kalyan and then Rony and neared the Chungu toll booth.

Jit told the driver, “Yaar[3]!  Today drive towards this blue building right here.”

The passengers who were travelling to the gurdwara grumbled a bit, but by now the bus had turned and was once more on the direct route. Near the Flower Cinema the conductor rang the bell to stop the bus, opened the door, and began to tell Polly, “You get down here, the hospital will be nearby.”

Polly got down quickly. She even forgot to say thank you. She thought to herself, “That poor fellow is such a nice conductor.”

By the time she reached the bus station that evening to begin her journey home, the bus was already full. With great difficulty she waited 45 minutes for another bus. A bus conductor, with his shirt unbuttoned, passed her three times while mumbling the song from the film Awaara[4]. He gave an anna to a female beggar to get rid of her for some time. She didn’t know why, but people were staring at her wide-eyed.

The next day, it happened by chance, that when she reached the Nabha bus station, the buses were already full, and Jit was turning away additional passengers without a ticket. Jit approached her and said, “You can pick up the bag on the front seat and sit down. I saved a seat for you.”

Polly passed by several gawking passengers and sat down. Jit immediately rang the bell for the bus to move forward.

“This conductor is so good-natured,” Polly thought to herself.

As the delays in getting her posting to Nabha stretched over time, she became depressed. The sound of the idling buses and fears of the bus leaving were constantly on her mind. Whenever she was forced to sit next to a fat passenger, her nice clothes would get wrinkled, and the stench of sweat would make her dizzy.

Then one day when she was about to give money for her ticket, Jit said, “No madam, forget about it,” and moved ahead.

“No sir, please take the money,” Polly emphatically requested.

“What difference will it make whether I take your money or not?” he asked. He walked further ahead and began to give a ticket to someone.

Polly, feeling self-conscious from the argument, sat down quietly but throughout the journey she was wondering why the conductor didn’t take money from her. She did not like it at all. For someone earning Rs. 300 what is the value 10.5 annas?

The next day she intentionally left five minutes late, thinking, “Today I won’t go on the Pipal Bus. Instead, I’ll take the Pepsu Roadways Bus.  What nonsense is this that he won’t take the money!”

She was stupefied to see that the driver had started the bus and was standing yelling at the conductor.

“Oye! I am just coming. Why are you yelling? Why do want to leave so early? Is it about to rain?” Jit said, while walking very, very slowly.

“Are we going to the next station or not? You’re taking your sweet time getting here,” the driver said.

“Get over here, Madam and take the front seat, and open the window,” Jit said to Polly.

“How can the bus leave without Madam?” mumbled a clerk in the back who took the bus from Nabhe to Patiala every day.

Jit glared at him. Everyone fell silent. The bus left. Polly took out the money but despite her repeated attempts, Jit refused to take it. Polly became very angry. “Jit is making me a part of this scam…But why is he neither charging me nor giving me a ticket?… Still, this is defrauding the company…” She was thinking this just as the bus stopped and a ticket-checker boarded. When he was checking the tickets of the other passengers, Polly broke out in a nervous sweat.

“How humiliating it is that I don’t have a ticket…. I will tell him that the conductor didn’t give me a ticket even though I asked for one,” she thought. “But what will the poor man say? No. I will tell him that I forgot. But no. How can I lie,” she debated with herself.

Then the checker approached her.

As soon as he said, “Madam…ticket,” Jit, taking a ticket out of his pocket, called out, “She…. she…This woman is my sister. I have her ticket.”

Seeing the ticket, the checker glanced at the conductor whose pants were threadbare at the knees and whose khaki uniform was worn at the elbows. Then, he looked over the woman in the expensive sari.  He smiled with his eyes.

Jit became flustered. The checker quickly got down from the bus.

Polly, surprised and worried, was thinking that perhaps this man, who earns a paltry Rs. 60 per month, didn’t eat during the day so that he could pay for my entire fare.

In the hospital, she kept thinking about this. She felt so uneasy about it.

In the evening when she reached the station, Jit was sad as he slowly made his way towards her.

“My older sister also studied medicine in Lahore…and she died there during the riots of partition. The rest of my family perished too. I somehow managed to make it here alive. How could I even think about studying when I could barely feed myself?  Then I became a conductor. When I saw your bag and stethoscope, I remembered Amarjit…and…and….” Then he choked up.

Polly was very distraught. She didn’t know how to respond.

Meanwhile, the bus came.  He quickly walked towards it and Polly kept on watching him walk away with affection in her moist eyes.

(Translated and published with permission from the Punjabi publisher at https://punjabistories.com. Link to the Punjabi story: https://punjabistories.com/tag/bus-conductor-by-dalip-kaur-tiwana/)


[1] A Punjabi expletive like Oh!

[2] Equal to 1/16 of a rupee

[3] Friend

[4] A 1951 movie – Awaara means vagabond

C. Christine Fair is a professor in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.  She studies political and military events of South Asia and travels extensively throughout Asia and the Middle East. Her books include In Their Own Words: Understanding the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (OUP 2019); Fighting to the End: The Pakistan Army’s Way of War (OUP, 2014); and Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States (Globe Pequot, 2008). She has published creative pieces in The Bark, The Dime Show Review, Furious Gazelle, Hypertext, Lunch Ticket, Clementine Unbound, Fifty Word Stories, The Drabble, Sandy River Review, Barzakh Magazine, Bluntly Magazine, Badlands Literary Journal, among others. Her visual work has appeared in Vox Populi, pulpMAG, The Indianapolis Review, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The New Southern Fugitives, Glassworks and Existere Journal of Arts. Her translations have appeared in the Bombay Literary Magazine, Bombay Review, Muse India and The Punch Magazine. She reads, writes and speaks Punjabi, Hindi, and Urdu.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Tribute

In Memory of Peace

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori*.
-- Dulce et Decorum Est, Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)

*Translated: "It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland."

On 11th November, we remember the men who gave up their lives to win wars for those in power. Remembrance Day started as an annual event after the First World War (28th July, 1914- 11the November, 1918) more than a hundred years ago, in memory of soldiers — some of who were lost in the battle grounds, whose remains never got back to their families. Some of these men who fought were from countries that were subservient to colonial powers who started the war and some, like the soldier-poet, Wilfred Owen, were from conquering nations.

This was much before atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Eventually, a nuclear armistice was declared. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948), an internationally acknowledged apostle of peace, had an opinion on this: “‘The very frightfulness of the atom bomb will not force non-violence on the world? If all nations are armed with the atom bomb, they will refrain from using it as it will mean absolute destruction for all concerned?’ I am of the opinion that it will not.” Has this nuclear armistice made the world more peaceful? And if so, what is the quality of peace that has been wrought by drumming fears of annihilation in human hearts? Could the ‘fakir…striding half-naked up the steps of the viceregal palace’ be right after all?

Here we have collected a few stories and poems around ongoing conflicts and wars which stretch to the present day, some old and some new… some even written by men who faced battle…

Poetry

A poem and art by Sybil Pretious in memory of soldiers who died in the World War I.

Soldiers & Missives by Prithvijeet Sinha … Click here to read.

Our Children by Bijan Najdi, translated from Persian by Davood Jalili. Click here to read.

Prose

Line of Control by Paresh Tiwari, a story about the life of soldiers set in the Indo-Pak border… Click here to read.

I am a Coward with Priorities by Tejaswinee Roychowdhury, a story from a soldier’s perspective. Click here to read.

From the Pages of a Soldier’s Diary… by Mike Smith takes you on a journey through the pages of a colonial diary and muses on choices he has made. Click here to read.

Bundu, Consoler of the Rich is a story based on memories of the Partition by Nadir Ali, translated from Punjabi by Amna Ali. Click here to read.

In a Land Far From Home: A Bengali in Afghanistan, an excerpt from an account by Syed Mujataba Ali, translated from Bengali by Nazes Afroz. Click here to read.

Categories
Bhaskar's Corner

Amrita Sher-Gil: An Avant-Garde Blender of the East & West

Bhaskar Parichha explores how the life and art of Amrita Sher-Gil was an amalgam of the best of India and the West

Much before the Punjabi diaspora spread its wings across continents, there was one woman who not only became a venerated name in the field of art but also gave art an altogether new identity in India. She was Amrita Sher-Gil (1913-1941). Born to Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia, a Sikh aristocrat and a great scholar of Sanskrit and Persian, and Marie Antoinette Gottesmann, a Jewish opera singer from Hungary, Amrita inherited a legacy that was consummate and effervescent. 

Amrita was the eldest of the two daughters. Her younger sister was Indira Sundaram, mother of   painter Vivan Sundaram. Amrita spent her early childhood in Dunaharaszti, Hungary. She was also the niece of the Indologist Ervin Baktay. It was Baktay who guided her — by being a critique of her works — and gave her the academic underpinning that helped Amrita flourish. Ervin also taught her to use domestic helpers as models; and the reminiscence of these models eventually motivated her to return to India. 

Sher-Gil’s quest for the fine art led her to Paris, with her mother, when she was barely sixteen. She studied first at the Grande Chaumiere under Pierre Vaillant and subsequently at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where she was taught by Lucien Simon.

In her early twenties, Sher-Gil returned to India in 1921. The family began living in Shimla. She was by now an accomplished painter, equipped with some of the most essential modules that make one a great artist. She had an unquenchable thirst to be on familiar terms with the grammar and the language of painting, a virile tenacity of purpose and the single-mindedness about her role in life. 

 In 1924, she went to Italy and joined Santa Annunciata, a Roman Catholic institution. In Santa, Amrita Sher-Gil got an exposure to the works of Italian artists. While studying in Paris, she had already been influenced by the works of European greats like Paul Cézanne and Paul Gauguin. Her later paintings would echo a strong influence of the Western artists, chiefly from the Bohemian circles of Paris of the early 1930s.

 In 1932, she displayed her first important work, Young Girls, which led to her appointment as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris in 1933, making her the youngest ever and the only Asian to have received such recognition. In 1934, while in Europe, she was haunted by what is known through her letters ‘an intense longing to return to India’ and ‘feeling in some strange way that there lay my destiny as a painter’. 

After her return, she began a rediscovery of the traditions of Indian art which would continue till her death. It was also during this period that she pursued an affair with Malcolm Muggeridge. In the mid-thirties, Amrita Sher-Gil’s mission for exploring further into Indian art began. It was a never-ending journey and her contributions to art was a breakthrough and uniquely superb. From Mughal miniatures to the Ajanta paintings and Southern styles, the Indian influence on her work was complete and irreversible. 

 In 1936, at the behest of Karl Khandalavala, art collector and critic, Amrita pursued her lifelong passion for realizing her Indian roots. She found inspiration in the Pahari School of painting. Later, in 1937, she toured South India and produced the famous South Indian trilogy paintings- ‘Bride’s Toilet’, ‘Brahmachari’ and ‘The South Indian Villagers’. These paintings mirror   her passionate sense of colour and an equally passionate empathy for Indian subjects. Poverty and despair constitute a major theme in Amrita Sher-Gil’s works and they find plentiful representation on her canvas. Her works also showed an engagement with the works of Hungarian painters, especially the Nagybanya School of painting in the interwar years.

In 1938, Amrita married her Hungarian first cousin, Dr. Victor Egan. After this marriage, they moved to Gorakhpur (UP) and, still later, the couple shifted to Lahore where she lived till her death in 1941.

Amrita Sher-Gil was one of the most gifted Indian artists belonging to the pre-colonial era. Her works reflect her deep ardour and perception for colours. Her profound understanding of the Indian subjects comes so vividly in her works that it is difficult to find parallels elsewhere. The works of Amrita Sher-Gil have been declared national art treasures by the Government and most of her paintings adorn the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi. There is also a Delhi road named after the painter — Amrita Sher-Gil Marg. 

Amrita Sher-Gil’s legacy stands at par with those of the masters of the Bengal renaissance. She is said to be the ‘most expensive’ woman painter in India. Besides remaining an inspiration to many contemporary Indian artists, she was the muse for one of the longest running Urdu plays, Tumhari Amrita (1992), directed by Javed Siddiqi, with Shabana Azmi and Farooq Sheikh playing the lead roles. Her works are also a central force in the novel, Faking It, authored by Amrita V Chowdhury. The beauty and depth of Amrita Sher-Gil’s paintings has earned her inordinate admiration and recognition beyond her days.

.

Bhaskar Parichha is a journalist and author of No Strings Attached: Writings on Odisha and Biju Patnaik – A Political Biography. He lives in Bhubaneswar and writes bilingually. Besides writing for newspapers, he also reviews books on various media platforms.

.

PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Essay

Remembering Shiv Kumar Batalvi

By Amrita Sharma

Shiv Kumar Batalvi: Sourced 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