Shiv Kumar Batalvi: Exploration of the Poet
Written By Rupinder Kaur, 2019
Na karo Shiv di udaasi da ilaaj, ron di marzi hai aj beimaan di –
Please don't find solutions to the sorrows of Shiv for the dishonest just want to cry today.
Shiv Kumar Batalvi was born in 1936 in a small village Bara Pind Lohtian, Shakargarh, Sialkot, now in present day Pakistan. His father was a tehsildar, a tax officer. Batalvi mentions in his only recorded interview, that he does not know how he became a poet. During the Partition of India, his family crossed the border to Batala (Panjab) when Shiv was around 11 years old. It’s said if there is a Panjabi poet after the most noted Waris Shah, it is Shiv Kumar Batalvi. Batalvi went on to become a very renowned poet, playwriter, and lyricist who penned down very famous folk songs – ek meri aakh kashni, haye ni munda labara da and enna akhiyan vich (to name a few), showing his versatility as a writer.
The main themes present in Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s poetry are love and nature. The village surroundings of pre-partition Panjab/India where he spent his childhood have also featured in his poetry along with folk tales. After being published in several Panjabi magazines such as Naagmani, Batlavi released his first book, Peerhan da Pragga in 1960. His collections to follow were Lajwanti, Aate diyan Chiriyaan, Birha tu Sultan, Dardmandaan diyan Aahaan, Mainu Vida karo, and his masterpiece Loona.
Kujh rukh mainu, puth lagde ne
Kujh rukh lagde maavaa
Kujh rukh noohaaa, dhiyaa lagde
Kujh rukh vaang bharaavaa
Kujh rukh mere baabe vaakan
Pahtar taavaa taavaa
Kujh rukh meri daadi varge
Choori paavan kaavaa
Kujh rukh yaaraan varge lagde
Chuma te gal laavaan
Ik meri mehbooba vaakan
Mitha ate dukhaavaa…
Some trees look like sons to me
Some like mothers
Some are daughters, brides,
A few like brothers
Some are like my grandfather,
Some like my grandmother
Who threw choori to the crows
Some trees are like the friends
I used to kiss and embrace
One is my beloved
Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s striking good looks and voice made him appealing to many women. It is said that young Batalvi fell in love with a Panjabi girl who was the daughter of a famous writer, Gurbaksh Singh Preetladi. However, due to differences in caste and ‘religion’, the girl was eventually married to somebody in the UK. Batalvi eventually got an arranged marriage to a woman called Arun and had two children. Yet, the constant feelings of unrequited love and pain come up time and time again throughout Batalavi’s poetry.
One of Shiv Kumar Batalvis very famous poem sung by the folk queen Surinder Kaur –
Loki poojan Rabb
Main tera birhara
Saanu sau mahkeyaa da haj,
Ve tera birhara!
People worship god
I worship this separation from you
It is worth Haj to a hundred Meccas,
This separation from you!
What makes Batalvi different from his contemporaries, is his play Loona. Loona is based on the folk tale of Bhagat Pooran. The original tale looks at how the King of Sialkot is attracted to a young girl called Loona and marries her. Soon after the marriage, Loona falls in love with the king’s son from his first marriage, Pooran who is of her age. When Pooran resists her advances, she accuses him of misbehaviour to the king. Pooran is beaten up and thrown into a well and exiled from the kingdom. A Saint rescues and treats him, and Pooran turns into a wandering ascetic himself – a Bhagat. Years later, a childless Loona comes to visit the famous Bhagat. When she realises his identity, she admits she had made a mistake. Pooran forgives her and his father, and a child is later born to Loona. The tale is often interpreted as Loona being the evil step-mother that wanted a sexual relationship with Pooran and eventually realises her mistake.
Batalvi’s version of this play marks a radical shift from the traditional male persona to a female persona, making Loona the main protagonist. Batalvi openly addresses the concept of female desire and explores the sexual attraction that Loona expresses. Loona was just a young girl that was married to a man much older than her. The man who she was married to was of her father’s age which is a reason why she is unable to have the same feelings. Loona then happens to fall in love with her step-son that is the same age – Pooran. But, Pooran refuses to have any sexual relationship with Loona as he sees her as his mother. Here Loona can be seen as a scapegoat due to being a young woman trapped in a situation. She has sexual desires, and Batalvi humanises her needs:
Loona hai kaamni, kyunki oh ik naar hai, jaat us di hai kaamni kyuni oh ik naar hai, lahu us da hai kamna kyunki oh ik naar hai –
Loona is sexual, because she is a woman, her caste is sexual because she is a woman, her blood is sexual because she is a woman.
Batalvi empathises with Loona and he looks deeper into what the old tale was unable to recognise. Previously she was known as a sinner that commits adultery but Batalvi turns the tale around and says it is not her fault as she was married off to someone old and never fully accepts that marriage. This is why she ends up falling in love with someone of her own age, which happens to be her own step-son.
dharmi babal paap kamaya
larh laya mere phull kumlaya
jis da IchraaN roop handaya
mein Pooran di ma pooran de haan di
main uston ikk chumman vaddi
par main keekan maan uhdi laggi
uh meri garb joon na aaiya
loka ve main dhi vargi salvaan di
pita je dhi da roop handaave
loka ve tainu laaj na aave
je Loona Pooran nu chaahve
charitarheen kave kion jeebh jahaan di
Loona hove taan apradhan
jekar andron hove suhagan
mehak ohdi je hove dagaan
mehak meri taan kanjak main hi jaan-di
Honourable father committed a sin
Married me to a wilted flower
Whose youth Ichrraan had worn out
I am like Pooran’s mother, Pooran is my match
I am just one kiss elder than him
But how can I be called his mother
He is not born of my womb
World, I am like a daughter to Salvan
If a father marries his daughter
World, isn’t that shameful
If Loona desires Pooran
Why is she called characterless by the world
She may be called characterless
If Loona trades in pleasures
But if the parents don’t find a match
What’s shameful in finding yourself a match
Loona would have been guilty
Had her heart accepted the marriage
Had her essence been permeated
My essence is chaste, only I know.
Batalvi’s take is modern and revolutionary because it explores a modern theme – the conditions of female sexuality in a male dominated society - which was itself a rebellious act in the 1960s. Shiv Kumar Batalvi turned the tale of Bhagat Pooran and Loona into a tale that questions the old tale along with society and shifts the patriarchal viewpoints and retells the story from the perspective a woman.
ethon di har reet dikhaava
ethon di har preet dikhaava
ethon da har dharam dikhaava
ethon da har karam dikhaava
har soo kaam da sulge laava
ethe koee kise nu pyar na karda
pinda hai pinde nu larda
roohan da satkaar na karda…
Here, every custom is a pretence
Here, every love legend is a pretence
Here, every religion is a pretence
Here, every practice is a pretence
Here, the lava of lust is everywhere
Here, nobody loves anybody
Bodies engrossed in themselves
Souls are bereft of respect…
For Batalvi, it is the legend of Loona which is why it is called Loona – a girl of lower caste, married against her wishes, who falls in love with a man that is of her age. Loona won Shiv Kumar Batalvi the Sahitya Akademi Award – a literary honour in India of which he is the youngest recipient to receive. Amrita Pritam, a leading Panjabi novelist and poet of that time said: “Shiv Kumar Batalvi is the only modern Punjabi poet who sung like a phoenix and his own fire eventually consumed him.” This is his only interview which was recorded with the BBC when he visited England in the 1970s: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cCnU68v4btA. Here we can see the clear grace of this young man and can understand why he was so popular.
Batalvi passed away at the age of 36 in 1973 but left behind a legacy that Panjabi literature will forever be indebted to. Over the years, his poetry has been featured in Bollywood with songs like aaj din chadheya tere rang warga and his famous poem ishtihar [ik kudi jeeda naam mohabbat]. Batalvi was also featured on Swet Shop Boys mashup – BATALVI which has his vocals from his live rendition ki puchde ho haal fakiran da, along with his interview experts where he mentions “life is a slow suicide…” The video features images of Shiv Kumar Batalvi along with classic Bollywood dance clips and heavy-hitting verses filmed on Facetime: https://youtu.be/VQFfZgKSkHc.
tu khud nu akal kehnda hai
main khud nu ashiq dasda haan
you call yourself clever
I call myself a lover.
-Shiv Kumar Batlavi