Shiv Kumar Batalvi
Shiv Kumar Batalvi is considered by Punjabi speakers in India as well as Pakistan as one of the finest poets of modern Punjabi literature. Tonight’s post is a wonderful selection of his poems set to music and sung by Jagjit Singh Zirvi (not to be confused with THE Jagjit Singh) and Neelam Sahni.
Shiv Kumar was born (1936) into a middle class family in that part of Punjab that is now in Pakistan. His father was a village revenue agent and well educated. Shiv Kumar is remembered as a ‘dreamy’ boy who much preferred wandering through the village singing folk and devotional songs to attending classes.
At the age of 11 he and his family moved to Batala (hence his name) in Indian Punjab as the madness of Partition tore the countryside apart. The young boy continued in his dream world and turned his hand to composing his own verses as a teenager. In line with his father’s own dreams, Shiv attended several colleges in Batala and other towns but never lasted more than a few months or a year before dropping out. By the time he gave up on formal education in the late 1950s, he had already developed a reputation as a powerful poet who was somehow able to bring a modern spirit to the rich folk traditions of Punjabi poetry. He was a fine singer but soon turned away from singing film and folk songs in preference to his own lyrics.
Under the mentorship and patronage of elder literary figures Batalvi took to poetry like a man obsessed. He published several volumes in quick succession and in 1965 became the country’s youngest recipient (he was 29) of the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award, India’s highest literary honor. He was a star burning bright.
Feted and ill fated.
He fell in love with a woman who was not to be his and never got over the heart break. Drink became a problem and his health deteriorated. But he was able to hold his audience like few others, as this description shows.
This mushaira was organized on a very large scale on the occasion of Guru Nanak’s 500th birthday. As soon as we appeared on the stage, a wave of excitement ran through the audience on seeing Shiv. They welcomed him with a loud round of applause. When he stood up to recite his poetry, a trance-like silence dominated the hall. He read his poem, Safar (A Travel). The vibrations of his enchanting and soft tunes touched the hearts of everyone present. Suddenly he raised the pitch of his voice. He was challenging Nanak. A poet was addressing another poet. He was saying to Guru Nanak: “See how far your nation has travelled after you. Today they have travelled from your name to the sword” . Shiv’s voice was resonating in the hall. He was standing tall and there was a prophet-like grandeur in his voice … when the poem ended … the girls started shouting for him to sing “Kee puchdey o haal faqeeran da (What is the point of asking us faqirs how are we doing?) … Shiv smiled and switching his mood he then sang the poem that he had sung hundreds of time and each time it had won the hearts of his audience … When Shiv left the microphone after reading three poems, no other poet could get the attention of the audience. The spell had broken and people had lost their interest.’ [Gargi 2000 ‘Haseen Chehre’].
Though he was loved by millions of Punjabis, ‘progressive’ and Leftist poets criticized his work strongly. At the same time he struggled financially and his spirits took a beating. In 1972 he made a celebrated tour of England, playing to appreciative Punjabi audiences all across the country. But when he returned to India he was not well and a few months later passed away at the age of just 36.
His poems have been sung by many sub continental artists including Jagjit and Chitra Singh, Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Rabbi Shergill.
Tonight’s album is a rare collection from 1979 beautifully performed by Jagjit Singh Zirvi and Neelam Sahni. Every song is a keeper but my favorite is the stunning Ik Kuri Jidha Naam Muhabat Gum Hai (A Lost Girl Named Love).
01 Ik Kuri Jidha Naam Muhabat Gum Hai
02 Punnia de Chan Nu Koi Massia
03 Ki Puchhde O Haal Faqiran Da
04 Tu Vida Hoyon
05 Peeran Da Praga Bhun De
06 Nee Mai Agg Turi Pardes
07 Raat Chanani Mai Turaan