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Poetry Shiv Kumar Batalvi


Jun 1, 2004
Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-1973)

I met Shiv Kumar a number of times during his stay in Britain and I was more than sorry to learn of his death. My sympathies and best wishes go out to his widow and his children. I shall remember his friendliness and his eagerness to learn as much as he could about the state of poetry in Britain. But I shall never forget his performances. I have seen many hundreds of poets perform but I don't think that I have ever witnessed such displays of intensity and passion. I knew I was close to a genius.---Spencer Leigh

The life and poetry of Shiv Kumar Batalvi - the most popular modern Punjabi poet and the youngest recipient of Shahitya Academy Award in 1967 - has been the subject of a large number of books and magazine articles, mostly written in Punjabi. Yet, a reliable and coherent study of his life has not come to light. The authors have attempted to put together a broad outline of Shiv’s life through detailed review of relevant published material, by interviewing a number of his contemporaries and family members and by conducting background research on people and places and the social and literary environment that shaped Shiv’s life and poetry. The authors also present an overview of Shiv’s poetry, highlighting its versatility and deep roots in Punjabi literary traditions. The authors have identified the main reason behind the extraordinary popularity of Shiv as his exceptional capability to embody the collective psyche of Punjabis and their traditional cultural identity in his poetry.

YouTube- Shiv Kumar Batalvi - Live Interview

Introduction On the eve of the turbulent decade of 1960’s, a dynamic, exciting and controversial time for the youth around the world, who rose to challenge and redefine the established boundaries of politics, culture, literature and art of their societies, Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a young man of barely 20 years of age, appeared on the scene of Punjabi poetry in East Punjab. By living a brief and intense life that was devoted to writing deeply profound, passionate and enchantingly lyrical poetic expressions of the pathos of his time, and dying young at the age of 36, a fate that he had predicted and romanticized throughout his poetry, he attained the charisma of a modern day saint and a fallen-hero in the eyes of many of his admirers. The sixties was primarily a phenomenon of western societies but its resonance had also touched the literature and art in the third world and had produced new trends in all forms of creative expressions. It was perhaps not a coincidence that Shiv Kumar Batalvi came to age and quickly gained prominence at this crucial juncture when the emerging era of modernity was decisively and permanently replacing the traditional way of writing Punjabi poetry. It was the most opportune time for talented poets to get attention and fame at a young age as the authentic voices of the new times. The real wonder of Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s poetry is not that he mastered the new and innovative ways to express modern poetical sensibilities better than most of his contemporaries, but that he did it by masterfully and artistically combining and fusing them with the spirit of Punjab’s culture and with the age old charm of classical Punjabi poetry and folk songs. He evoked, and still continues to do so, strong emotions among the listeners and readers of his poetry. For a vast majority, he is quintessence of the absolute best that great poetry is supposed to be, while for some his poetry is an unwelcome distraction from the true goal of poetry as a tool to identify and expose the fault lines in the society and people’s reaction to them.

[BREAK=Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Life]

The Village

Shiv was born on July 23, 1936, in a village, Bara Pind Lohtian, located in the northern part of pre-partition Punjab close to the border with the State of Jammu and Kashmir[1]. Bara Pind Lohtian is about thirty miles east of Sialkot and 15 miles west of India-Pakistan border on Zafarwal-Shakargarh road, in district Narowal. Before partition, this area was in district Gurdaspur. Due to the proximity of Jammu and Kahsmir mountains, the weather here is relatively temperate compared to the extreme summer heat of the plains of the Punjab. A number of nalas (small streams) Aik, Daigh, Basantar, Tavi and others pass through the area. The village is located on the bank of Basantar nala. At the time of the partition, the village had approximately 400 houses of Hindu and 100 houses of Muslim families. There was only one Sikh household in the village. Muslims were mostly poor while Hindus were generally affluent. They were landlords, merchants and moneylenders. Their houses were solidly built with small bricks and wood. Doors and windows were elaborately designed. The main doors had engraving of their religious figures. Hindus were the dominant faction in the village. They did not allow the slaughter of cows but other than that people in the village lived together with remarkable religious tolerance and communal harmony. They drank water from the same wells, and Hindu and Muslim children used to play together. The religious and seasonal festivals were the big events of their lives and were celebrated with a lot of funfair. The village life was by and large very peaceful. Disputes were settled by the panchayat (council) of village elders and police never came to the village. No murders or other major crimes are reported in that area during those days.

The square of the village was an open space of about half an acre in area with a number of shops around it. Large mango orchards surrounded the village. On a clear day one could see the mountains of Kashmir and at nighttime lights of the city of Samba. An unpaved road passed through the village, coming from Jammu through Samba, Tanda, and Darman up to Amritsar. There used to be a diesel bus service between Samba and Amritsar that passed through the village once a day. The nearest railway station was Shakargarh, about 8 miles away. The village had a primary school for boys, an animal hospital and a small village council. There was no school for girls but a Hindu woman used to teach Hindu girls in a mandir (temple). Hindu women used to cover their faces with veils and usually did not go out of their houses. The land was very fertile and was irrigated through wells. The village was called Lohtian either because the businessmen of the area used to bring loha (iron) from Amritsar for selling, or more likely, because the cast of the Hindu Khatri clan that used to live there was Lohtia. Bara Pind Lohtian during pre-partition days was an ideal place for a sensitive and dreamy Hindu boy to grow up.


The Childhood

Shiv belonged to a middle-class family that had lived in that area for many generations. His father, Pandit Krishan Gopal, was the second-born among his three brothers and two sisters[2]. He started his career as a patwari (land recorder and surveyor) and eventually reached the post of Qanoongoh (a mid-level supervisory position in the Revenue Department) and retired as the principal of Patwar School, Batala. Soon after passing the exam of patwar in 1931, Krishan Gopal married a tall and beautiful girl, Shanti Devi, from a nearby village. Shanti Devi was known for her melodious singing voice that Shiv inherited from her. Their first son, Davarka, was born during the second year of their marriage followed by Shiv a couple of years later. By all accounts, Shiv had a happy and carefree childhood. He was known for his peculiar habit of wandering around in the village and its surroundings alone. Many times, his father would have to search for him, finding him lying down under the trees at the banks of Bassantar nala or near a mandir on the south side of the village. At other times he would be found watching with fascination the tricks of snake charmers or absorbed in listening to the singings of raas-daharis (a folk verse-play based on religious songs). Even today, the old folks in the village remember that ‘patwari's son’ was known as a sheedai (obsessed) and a malang (wandering faqir). He was very fond of taking part in Ramlila (a musical verse play staged on the occasion of Hindu holy festival Dussehra for nine consecutive nights based on Ramayan) and other plays during religious festivals, usually in a female role.

Shiv studied at the boys’ primary school in the village where he got a scholarship in the 4th grade exam. His father was by then promoted to the position of Girdwar (supervisor of patwaris) and posted at Dera Baba Nanak. Shiv also moved to Dera Baba Nanak with his father, mother and elder brother, Davarka.[3] Next year in August 1947, while Shiv and Davarka were visiting Bara Pind Lohtian during their summer vacations from school, the partition of Punjab was announced. In the middle of the gruesome carnage that swept the Punjab in the wake of partition, Shiv left the village with other close relatives. They travelled through the state of Jammu and Kasmir and after many days arrived at Dera Baba Nanak where Shiv's parents were anxiously waiting for their sons. Shiv's family soon migrated to Batala, across from Bara Pind Lohtian on the other side of the newly carved border. The ****** partition of Punjab shattered Shiv's idyllic childhood and brought the happiest period of his life to an abrupt end.[4]

The impressions of this early period provided Shiv's poetry a nostalgic wealth of haunting imagery and metaphors, most of which can be traced back to the scenery and traditional village life of rural Punjab in the area where he grew up. The memories of his childhood stayed fresh in his mind . [Gargi 2000, ‘Kaudian Wala Sapp’ ]. The traumatic disruption of Shiv's childhood caused by the events of partition was perhaps one of the sources of his deep sorrow and melancholy, although Shiv never expressed it directly in his early poetry. Only at the end of his poetic career, he addressed it in his poem Dudh Da Qatal (Murder of Mother’s Milk), as part of a surgical and painful analysis of his inner sufferings, calling the pre-partition combined Punjab as his mother: [5]

I still remember it today, and you must remember it too
When, together, we murdered our mother.
My childhood was killed with the murder of my mother
And its cold corpse was left behind in your place.
Even now, I become quiet when I remember that
And lose myself in the thoughts of that half-a-body that was your share.
[Translation by Suman Kashyap].[6]

[BREAK=The Years of Aimless Wanderings]

Shiv’s family settled down in Batala in Darussalam muhalla (section of a city), now re-named as Prem Nagar.[7] Shiv attended the Salvation Army High School and passed his matriculation examination in first division in 1953. That is about how far he would go as far as formal education was concerned. To the utter disappointment of his father who wanted him to get a good education and start a successful career, he spent the next few years getting in and out of three colleges without getting a degree. He spent two years in the Baring Union Christian College, Batala, in the F.Sc. program but dropped out without sitting in the Board examination. He next joined R. D. College, Nabha, but left it after a few months. He then got admission in S.N. College, Qadian, a small town near Batala, in arts subjects but dropped out again after a couple of years. [Pal 1998][8]. Finally, his father forced him to join the Revenue Department as a patwari.[9] After joining the service, Shiv took little interest in the work and for a while made an arrangement with a retired patwari to take care of his official responsibilities in exchange of one-third of his pay. Even that didn’t last for long and Shiv resigned from his job in 1961. [Kahlon. Int. 2002].

It was during the final year of his unsuccessful college career at Qadian in 1957 that Shiv started writing poetry in Punjabi[10]. Among his student friends in the colleges he had attended, he was already very popular as a talented singer and he had developed a large following of fans. [Pal 1998]. Now, instead of singing folk and film songs, he started singing his own poems. He soon got introduced in the literary circles of Batala. Some senior writers of Batala, including Jaswant Singh Rahi, Kartar Singh Balgan and Barkat Ram Yumman, as the saying goes, took him under their wings. Among them, Barkat Ram Yumman played an important role in introducing him to the kavi darbars (poetry recital functions, also called mushairas) outside Batala. [Sharma 1979].

[BREAK=The Decade of Shiv’s Poetic Miracle]

The next decade, after Shiv left S.N College, was the most prolific period of his poetry writing. It was during this time that he composed most of his masterpiece poetry that he was destined to write during his brief lifetime. Once he discovered his poetic genius, the writing of poetry became his primary passion and overshadowed all other considerations. He practically dedicated his life to writing poetry as the only objective of his life. He extensively studied Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu and English literature.[11] Shiv also developed friendships with a large number of well-known Punjabi writers and started moving in their circle. Between 1960 and 1965, he published his first five collections of poetry. One of the only two other collections that he published later contained poems that were mostly written during this period. He was awarded the coveted Sahitya Academy Award for his verse-drama, Loonan, published in 1965, becoming its youngest ever recipient.

By the end of this period, Shiv had become a living legend and most sought after Punjabi poet. The organizers of kavi darbars all over the Punjab had found out that inviting Shiv would guarantee a large audience and success of their functions. They also began to break the longstanding tradition of seniority by inviting Shiv to recite his poetry after some well-established and senior poets knowing well that the audience will not stay around to listen to other poets after him. [Singh 1994]. He was the star attraction of kavi darbars and was famous for his unique and passionate style of singing of his poetry that could spellbind his audience into pin-drop silence. Many who had listened to Shiv’s recitations of his poetry found it as one of the most memorable experiences of their lives.[12] [Duggal & Sekhon 1992].

Shiv’s extraordinary hold on his audience has been noted by all of his biographers. A typical example is Balwant Gargi’s description of a kavi darbar that he attended with Shiv:

‘This mushaira was organized by Principal O. P. Sharma 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 in the kavi darbar.’[13] [Gargi 2000 ‘Haseen Chehre’].

Those were also tough times for Shiv. He didn’t like working as a patwari. After resigning from this job, he remained unemployed until 1966. Without much financial support from his father, he had to rely on the occasional fees he received for reading his poems in kavi darbars, and later the meagre royalty he received for his books.[14] His bohemian lifestyle was a constant cause of rift between him and his father. He would stay away from home for long periods of time spending the nights at the homes of his friends. Finally, in 1966 he made an effort to start living a normal life and took a clerical job at the State Bank’s branch in Batala. He married in 1967. His wife, Aruna, was a Brahmin from district Gurdaspur. He had two children, Meharbaan (b. 1968) and Puja (b. 1969). In 1968 he moved to Chandigarh where he continued his employment at the State Bank of India.

[BREAK=The Years of Bitterness and Disappointment]

Shiv had come to Chandigarh with many hopes but after four years when he left this city he was bitter and disappointed. Although his stay in Chandigarh initially brought him more fame, his growing popularity had already given rise to many detracting voices in Punjabi literary circles that became more loud and stronger during his time in Chandigarh. This eventually became quite distressing for him. So much so that he retaliated against the criticism of his poetry in an article published as the preface of Dardmandan Deean Aheen, a selection of his poetry, under the heading ‘Mere Nindak’ (My Critics).

Shiv hardly did any work at the State Bank in Chandigarh where he was employed. For a while, he was given the charge of some books lying around in the bank. Shiv simply kept a register on his table and let everyone know that whoever needed a book could make entry in the register and take the book. Similarly, he was also assigned other light duties on different desks, including of public relations. He would go to the bank only once or twice a week. [Bhandari. Int. 2002]. Shiv lived in a house in Sector 21. His favourite place in Chandigarh was the watch shop of Preetam Kanwal Singh, close to a liquor shop in Sector 22. It was a small booth type shop. Shiv would arrive there early in the day and would hold court until evening. He would sometimes lie down behind the counter to get some rest in the afternoon. In the evenings, he could be found at the ‘Writers-Corner’ in the square of Sector 22. [Manhas. Int. 2002]. On the same day that Shiv shifted to Chandigarh, he met some fellow poets, Mohan Bhandari, Bhagwant Singh, Bhushan Dhyanpuri and some others, standing by the railing on the side of the road at 22 Sector. They immediately decided to name this corner ‘Writers Corner’ to celebrate the occasion. A young boy was sent to get a small board painted with the inscription ‘Writers Corner’. They hanged the board there and got it inaugurated by Shiv. It is also called Battian Wala Chowk (the square with traffic lights) of Sector 22-23, since it is just in the first corner of Sector 22 from the main road and Sector 23 begins across the road. This Sector was the main centre of literary activities in Chandigarh. About 25-30 writers were living around in that area and other close by Sectors. Sector 22 was their main meeting place in the evening. [Bhandari. Int. 2002].

During the last couple of years of Shiv’s stay in Chandigarh, his health had started declining. He had a few attacks of epilepsy. [Batalvi. Int. 2002]. The harsh criticism of his poetry from some quarters had started taking its toll on his mental and physical health. Until then, Shiv’s social persona had never exhibited some of the deep sorrow reflected in his poetry. He was known as the delight of social gatherings of his friends and admirers where he was always a witty, sharp-minded and very intelligent conversationalist. From serious discussions about literature or recitation of his sad or serious poetry, he would effortlessly turn to telling jokes or other light and entertaining topics. [Kahlon. Int. 2002]. Now, a growing bitterness was often noticed in his demeanour. He started talking more openly about his impeding death. He also started drinking on a regular bases.[15]

[BREAK=The Trip to England]

In May of 1972, Shiv visited England on the invitation of Dr. Gupal Puri and Mrs. Kailash Puri He had been looking forward to his first trip abroad as a welcome relief from the drudgery of his life in Chandigarh. When he arrived in England, his popularity and fame had already reached a high point among the Punjabi community. His arrival was announced in the local Indian papers with headlines and pictures. [Takhar. Int. 2002]. He spent a busy time in England. A number of public functions and private parties were arranged in his honour where he recited his poetry. Dr. Gupal Puri arranged the first large function in Coventry, near London, to welcome Shiv. A large number of his fans and Punjabi poets, including Santokh Singh Santokh, Kuldip Takhar and T{censored}m Purewal and many others attended this function. Another large gathering was organized at Rochester (Kent) in his honour. The famous artist S. Sobha Singh was also present who had travelled on his own expense to see Shiv. His engagements in England were regularly reported in the local Indian media and the BBC Television once interviewed him. While Punjabi community got their opportunity to listen to Shiv on various occasions, his stay in London proved to be the last straw for his failing health. He would stay late and continue to drink until 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning at parties or at home engaged in discussions with his hosts and other people who would come to visit him. He would wake up after a short sleep around 4:00 A.M. and begin his day by again taking a couple of sips of Scotch.[16] [Kaur 1998].

[BREAK=The Final Days]

When Shiv returned from England in September 1972, his health had declined visibly. He was now bitterly complaining about the undue criticism of his poetry by the progressive and leftist writers. He openly started talking about his disappointment at the unjustified condemnation of his poetry.[17] [Gargi 2000 ‘Surme Walee Akhah’ ]. Within a couple of months after his return from England, his health started sinking, never to recover again. He was in a dire financial predicament during those days and felt that most of his friends had deserted him in his time of need. His wife, Aruna, somehow managed to get him admitted in a hospital in Section 16 of Chandigarh where he received treatment for a few days. A couple of months later, he was admitted in a hospital in Amritsar, but left it on his own against the advice of his doctors. He didn’t want to die in a hospital and simply walked out of the hospital and went to his family home in Batala. He was later shifted to the village of his in-laws, Kiri Mangial, a small village near the border with Pakistan. Shiv Kumar Batalvi died in Kiri Mangial during the early morning hours of May 6, 1973.[18] [Kahlon. Int. 2002].

[BREAK=Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Poetry]

Punjabi Poetry Scene Before Shiv

Poetry has been a part of Punjab’s culture as an important feature of Punjabis’ living experience since at least, and probably long before, the time of the first major Punjabi poet, Baba Farid (1173-1265). During the following centuries, it took many different and distinct forms and besides producing a long line of distinguished poets in the Sufi and Qissa (epic love story) tradition, its oral tradition encompasses a wide variety of popular poetry in its folk songs and verse-dramas on the themes of religious mythology. The classical period of Sufi and Qissa Punjabi poetry came to an end at the turn of the 20th century with Maulvi Ghulam Rasul (1849-1892), Khwaja Ghulam Farid (1841-1901) and Mian Muhamamd Baksh (1830-1904). By then, Punjabi poets had already started adopting modern verse forms. Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1952) was the first Punjabi poet who introduced free verse in Punjabi poetry. During the first half of 20th century, Punjabi poetry went through the process of a complete transformation from traditional to modern with the political, economical and cultural changes that were taking place in India and the rest of the world. The world wars on international front, Marxist/Leninist revolution in Russia and India’s own independence struggle on the national level brought about several changes in the life and outlook of people that were also reflected in Punjabi literature. By the time Shiv Kumar Batalvi started writing poetry in late 50’s, the classical Punjabi poetry period was already long over and post-partition poetry was represented by many emerging progressive and modern trends, dominated by Prof. Mohan Singh (1905-1978), Amrita Pritam (b. 1919) and other stalwarts of modern Punjabi poetry. [Singh 1994].

[BREAK=A Brief Survey of Shiv’s Poetry]

Shiv was not just a poet of a few dozen popular poems nor was his poetry limited to a couple of topics. He was a very versatile poet of many different styles and a wide range of subjects. Throughout his brief poetic career, his poetry shows a continuous progression from the early pangs of birha (separation from a loves ones) to increasingly complex emotions and different reactions to his inner sufferings and towards society at large. His sense of his own identity also went through many changes. He travelled a great distance from his first collection of poems Peeran Da Paraga (A Handful of Pains), published in 1960, to his last major work Mein Te Mein (Me and Myself) published in 1970.[19] Following is a brief survey of his published poetry:

1. Peeran Da Paraga (A Handful of Pains) (1960): It is Shiv’s first published collection of poetry consisting of 25 poems. It includes poems that he had written between 1957 and 1960 expressing pain and sorrow of separation and his desire for death. It includes some of his early popular poems.

2. Lajwanti (The Shy Maid) (1961): Within a single year after the publication of his first collection of poetry, Shiv appeared to have arrived at a level of maturity that was not as prominent in his earlier poetry. This collection has some remarkable poems on many different subjects. In all of his poetry, there are certain subjects that he has touched upon once, writing a memorable poem on it, and then never coming back to the same subject. In this collection, Sheesho, an exceptionally beautiful and comparatively long poem, falls in that category. Shiv’s description of the exploitation of a poor village girl by the rich landowner is remarkable both for its poetic qualities and for Shiv’s heart wrenching pity and compassion about the poor girl’s plight. A long poem, Geet (A song - Uchcian paharan diya ohle ohle soorja – O Sun, hiding behind the high peaks of mountains) is an example of Shiv’s mastery of describing natural scenery:

The sun peeks out
From behind the high mountains,
Planting little seedling of light.
It crushes the yellow sunshine
Into small pieces,
To make anklets for the mountaintops!

Ankle deep in the wind
Flow fragrances,
The birds fall asleep.
Through a clump of green trees
A water channel flows
Piping a melody!

Seeing the blue lotus
In the mirror like water
The drooping leaves weep.
The wind has tied
Tiny anklets around its feet,
And stamps her heels as she walks!

[Translation: Suman Kashyap]

A totally different mood from the sadness of some of his other poems, dominates another poem by the tile of Geet (A Song):

Where rivulets of perfume flow,
There my beloved lives.
Where passing breezes halt,
There my beloved lives.

Where dawn arrives on little bare toes,
Where night throws henna-beams on feet.
Where fragrance bathes in moonlight,
There my beloved lives.

[Translation: Suman Kashyap].

A number of Shiv’s memorable and popular poems are part of this collection.

3. Atte Deean Chirian (The Sparrows of Kneaded Flour) (1962): This collection is quite different from the previous two collections, both in matter as well as in its various themes. Shiv experimented with different themes under a dominant mood of sensuous feelings. He also returned back to the topic of birha in Shikra (A Falcon) and couple of other poems. Once again, there are poems in this collection that display his wide versatility of subjects, including various themes that are limited to single poems, i.e., Hijra (Eunuch) and Zakham (A Wound). Shiv also further experimented in some poems by writing them in the prevalent style of expressing post-modern consciousness. Shiv was awarded the first prize from the Language Department of Punjab for this collection.

4. Mainu Vida Karo (Bid Me farewell) (1963): This is another collection of songs full of symbols of death and pain of separation that he expressed in different forms, including the bemoaning of a love-torn girl addressed to her father in Dharmee Babula. Once again demonstrating his exceptional talent of interweaving Punjab’s culture in this poems:

When the cotton flower blooms,
O noble father.
Bring that season back for me,
O noble father.

It was in that season that I lost my song.
Separation choked its throat,
Sorrow ravaged its face,
Like water in ruined wells were its eyes.
It was a song that brought to lips,
The scent of musk.
O noble father.
Bring back that song for me.
O noble father.

One day my song and I,
In that enchanted season,
Ploughed the earth of my heart,
Sowed it with seeds of undefiled dreams.
No matter how many tears I poured on it,
No flower bloomed.
O noble father.
Bring back one flower for me,
O noble father.

What use your fertile lands
If daughters wilt?
What use your lakes
If the swans are parched?
What use your ample wealth
Your granary of pearls,
O noble father,
If you cannot bring back the season,
When the cotton flower blooms.
O noble father.

[Translation: Suman Kashyap]

5. Loonan (1965): It is an epic-like verse play and is considered by many of Shiv’s critics as his masterpiece and most significant literary achievement. Shiv reworked the theme of Puran Bhagat, a mythical folklore of Punjab about the implications of marrying a young girl with an old man. In the traditional story the young wife is depicted as an evil villain in her relationship with the grown-up son of her husband from his first marriage. Shiv wrote his poem from the perspective of injustice to the young wife. He altogether changed the traditional character of Loonan that is portrayed in the legend as a wicked, lustful and cruel women . He made Loonan a sympathetic character and challenged the male dominated society to reconsider their norms and moral values. Shiv was awarded Sahitiya Academy award for this book in 1967.

Loonan stands out among Shiv’s poetic works for a number of reasons. It not only adds a new dimension to the versatility of Shiv’s poetry, it also recasts, to some degree, Shiv’s entire poetry in a new light. In particular, the profound and perceptive empathy of women’s emotions and feelings as victims of social inequity and injustice that Shiv portrayed in Loonan, allows deeper understanding of Shiv’s concept of love and gender-relations in his poetry than the stereotype of women as poet’s self-centred object of desire. Similarly, the masterful use of imagery that sets the tone and atmosphere of each of the eight acts of the verse play, helps to highlight Shiv’s superb poetic techniques of equally expert use of imagery in his other poems.

In Loonan, Shiv presents a remarkably incisive and insightful appreciation of women’s sufferings in a patriarchy and exposes its moral values as the tools that force women to sacrifice their individuality to fit in various roles assigned to them. Reading the deliberate politics of the monarchical discourse in the legend, Shiv presents it from women’s point of view. More importantly, Shiv rejects the glorification of patriarchal assignment of women’s role and instead forcefully brings out the individuality of Loonan. ‘Shiv Kumar … views her sexual subjugation and deprivation as a basic injustice to her and cause of her suffering. He vindicates the veracity of her Being by asserting her right to choose and by condemning her deprivation in marriage - through her own voice. In Luna body is not merely a site of sexual desire but her humanity asserted through valuing and articulating the needs of her body and condemning their deprivation in marriage. The play is a strong assertion of woman’s sexuality which has been ignored, abused, repressed or mythologized (as passive) in patriarchy.’ [Singh 2000, 133-134].
Shiv used strong sensual imagery to highlight Loonan’s individual feelings. She repeatedly refers herself as “fire,” “fire maiden” or “women-fire”:

Why should not fire speaks out friends?
… … … …
I wish every hearth’s fire to leap
And break all bounds
With its scorching and burning
Tear up the pages of oppression
Why should anybody weigh our fire’s warmth
Against a handful of rice?
… … … …
One day this fire
Shall speak out
Its eyes shall deliver
Instead of a tear
Blood of fi[e]ry rebellion
Which shall burn down the pride
Of the fire-eating salamadar, man

[Translation: Sekhon 1985]

It is also worth noting that, ‘… the play published in 1965 in fact predates the second wave of feminism in its assertion of woman’s being in her choice, sexuality and self respect, in protesting against woman’s abuse and in interrogating patriarchy.’ [Singh 2000, 143].

6. Mein Te Mein (Me and Myself) (1970): It is a long narrative poem that is written in a very different style and on themes that Shiv had not fully explored before. With this book, Shiv reached the height of his poetic evolution and practically the end of his poetic career. It is in the form of a monologue in search of his identity and inner self that is being torn apart by the demons of past and emotional responses to different events in his tortured life. The poem depicts the tragedy of modern man’s life in many different settings. There appear many autobiographical elements in this poem and it can be considered as an investigation by the poet of the complexities of his own life.

7. Artee (Invocation) (1971): Although published in 1971, this book contains poems that were written between 1963 and 1965. These are on variety of themes that are covered in his previous collections.

8. Birha Tu Sultaan (O’ Separation, You are Supreme) (1975): This book was published posthumously and contains poems that were not included in his previous books, and were either unpublished or were published in different newspapers and magazines. Some of the poems in this collection were originally written by Shiv to earn a few Rupees from All India Radio Jalandhar as part of official propaganda on some social issues and are not among his representative poetry. This collection includes the earliest folk songs written by Shiv (Ek Meri Akh Kashni and Lachi Kuri Wahdiyan Kare), as well as, some remarkable poems that he has written in free verse form. His poem, Rukh (The Tree) is one such example:

Some trees look like sons to me.
Some like mothers.
Some are daughters, brides,
A few like brothers.

Some are like my grandfather,
Sp{censored}ly leafed.
Some like my grandmother
Who used to throw choori to the crows.

Some trees are like the friends
I used to kiss and embrace.
One is my beloved
Sweet. Painful.

There are trees I would like
To throw on my shoulder playfully,
There are trees I would like
To kiss and then die.

The trees sway together
When strong winds blow.
I wish I could render
Their verdant, leafy language.

I wish that I could
Return as a tree.
And if you wanted to listen to my song
I would sing it in the trees.

These trees are like my mother,
May their shade stay intact.

[Translation by Suman Kashyap].

[BREAK=His Critics]

Shiv’s critics have generally given a few stereotyped labels to Shiv’s poetry, i.e., poet of Birha and a reincarnation of Keats, ignoring the versatility of his poetry. [Singh 1983]. His poetry has also been severely criticized, even condemned, for its alleged excessive romanticism and lack of social consciousness, particularly in the context of Marx/Lenin/Mao social analysis:

‘The pain expressed by his poetry is confused and non-scientific. It is simply his painful emotional reaction based on his unempirical view of the social and material relations in the society.’ [Pash 1993].

Amarjit Chandan, expressed similar thoughts in a recent interview:

‘There is neither any scientific social understanding nor any spirituality in Shiv’s poetry. He represents adolescence emotions. Very few people have bothered to read all of his poetry. He has become famous on the basis of just a few of his poems. He has copied the lyricism and diction of Harbhajan Singh. [Chandan. Int. 2002].[20]

Similar harsh criticism was also levied against his poetry, during and after his lifetime, by many other Punjabi writers who either belonged to the Nexalite and other leftist movements or experimentalism and social realism schools of thoughts in Punjabi poetry. Some of the criticism was perhaps a reaction to the extraordinary phenomena, never witnessed in Punjab during modern times, of Shiv’s unparalleled popularity as a poet that outshined most of his contemporaries

[BREAK=Shiv’s Popularity]

One of the most prominent aspects of Shiv’s poetry is its ever-increasing popularity that has continued to grow since his death and has surpassed all other Modern Punjabi poets. Six years after Shiv’s death, O.P. Sharma noted the phenomenon of Shiv’s growing popularity as:

‘We are in the midst of a Shiv wave which is projecting him in proper focus as a man and a poet. We are reviving, reliving and rediscovering him … Shiv Batalvi’s “nites” (sic), operas, symposia and stage performances in India and abroad, organized by enthusiastic admirers of the poet, are the emotional and effervescent expressions of our tribute to this lyrical genius … we are experiencing a vital process of gestation and reincarnation of the poet through publications, radio, television, recorded discs and cellulides.’ [Sharma 1979, iii – iv].

Since then, a number of indicators point to the fact that his poetry has immensely grown in popularity among all segments of Punjabis. Besides more than 20 books and numerous articles that have so far been published on his life and poetry, his poetry has also been the research topic of many doctoral theses at various Indian universities. Perhaps the most important market-based indicator of the popularity of Shiv’s poetry is the large number of recordings of his poems made for commercial audio albums by Indian and Pakistani Punjabi singers, including: Surrinder Kaur, Jagjit Zirvi, Pushpa Hans, Assa Singh Mastana, Mohinder Kapoor, Jagjeet Singh, Chitra Singh, Kuldip Deepak, Jagmohan Kaur, K. Deep, Dolly Guleria, Bhupinder Singh, Mitali Singh, Kavita Karishnamurthi, Deedar Pardesi, Jasbir Jassi, Neelam Sahani, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shazia Manzoor, Ghulam Ali, Tufail Niazi, Shaukat Ali and others. The latest album of Hans Raj Hans, released in October 2002, is solely based on Shiv’s poems.[21]

Other than Punjabi Sufi and Qissa poets of classical period, no Punjabi poet except Shiv Kumar Batalvi has ever gained mass popularity on such a large scale. Shiv’s popularity has now reached a point where ignoring it as a yardstick to measure the significance of his poetry will amount to a contempt of the collective mind of Punjabis.

[BREAK=Shiv and Punjabi Poetry Tradition]

Shiv Kumar Batalvi has hit a chord with the psyche of Punjabis of all backgrounds. A closer look at his poetry reveals that the success and popularity of Shiv’s poetry, to a large extent, has its genesis in following the centuries old traditions of classical Punjabi poetry. Not in its purpose, content or message, specially of Sufi and religious poetry, but in skilfully adopting the diction, vocabulary, symbolism and many of its other important aspects. By imbibing the essential elements of classical Punjabi poetry, Shiv articulated an acute historical sense and combined it in the most aesthetically pleasing way in his otherwise contemporary poetry. He appeared to have intuitively followed the prescription of T.S. Eliot who had recognized the importance of proper reflection of historical sense in modern poetry in the following words:

‘Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, "tradition" should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable … the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of … his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.’ [Eliot 1997].

At a time when many of his contemporaries were looking towards the western and, in particular, the progressive literature from around the world to learn new techniques of writing poetry, Shiv Kumar Batalvi took his inspirations from the classical literature of his own land. He adopted many of its techniques to express the crisis of disintegration of human soul as he saw it in his own life and time. The most important characteristics of classical Punjabi poetry tradition, that are shared by the whole spectrum of creative expressions in Punjabi from the devotional musings of Punjab’s saints to village folk singers, and are relevant to understanding the historical sense displayed by Shiv’s poetry, are worth noting here.

(a) First and foremost, even the most serious and philosophical Punjabi poetry was written for common folks. The intellectuals, philosophers and religious scholars, who chose to write in Punjabi, never formed an elite class. Their primary motive of communicating in Punjabi was to reach the common people. They had deliberately discarded the privileges that were available to them in the languages of power, primarily Sanskrit and Persian. Although most of the leading Sufi and Qissa poets of Punjabi were very well versed in the literature of major Eastern languages, i.e., Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic, they did not follow the intricate and complex structure of their poetry. Instead, while expressing their thoughts in Punjabi, they used the simple language and idiom of village folks.
(b) In both the Sufi and Qissa poetry, utmost sacrifices and willing acceptance of death, as the pinnacle of one’s struggle for an ultimate goal, are celebrated.
(c) Most of the classical Punjabi poetry was written in a lyrical form with the intention of singing. Many of the classical Punjabi poets expressly set their lyrics in well-known ragas of Indian music
(d) Classical Punjabi poets extensively, and in the case of many important poets exclusively, used the imagery, metaphors and symbols that were taken from everyday life and scenery of rural Punjab.
(e) The classical Punjabi poetry is a panorama of the whole vista of common and popular culture of Punjab.

These characteristics are prominent in all of Shiv’s popular poems. One of his early poems Bhatti Waliye may serve as a good example:

I will pay you with my tears,
Roast my store of sorrows in your pan,
O tender of the fire.

Tender of the fire, you are a branch of frangipani,
Roast my store of sorrows

I am late already,
The shadows are fading.
The cattle have returned
From the forest.

The birds have raised their clamour,
O roast my store of sorrows in your pan.
Tender of the fire.

Hurry, hurry
I have far to go,
To the place where
All my friends have gone.

I hear the road to that town is difficult
O roast my store of sorrows in your pan.
Tender of the fire.

Why, when it is my turn,
Is your bale of kindling damp?
Why has your earthen wok
Turned flaccid?

What has gone wrong with your fire?
O roast my store of sorrows in your pan.
Tender of the fire.

Just a handful is my measure
Let me go on my way,
Don’t leave them raw
Roast them a little more.

I beg you, bring an end to this trouble,
O roast my store of sorrows in your pan.
Tender of the fire.
The wind has dropped
Wept its mournful cry.
The stars are emitting
A sweet heat.

O roast my store of sorrows in your pan.
Tender of the fire.

[Translation by Suman Kashyap].

This poem can be understood at different levels. It was written during a time when Shiv was suffering from the loss of his first love. It can be taken as poet’s wish to speed up the process of dying in the agony of his broken heart. He wishes that if he could get some help in raising the level of his pain to a maximum point, he may get freedom from the unbearable agony of his life. The dominant mood of the poem is very similar to the spiritual journey of a Sufi travelled in stages where each stage of spiritual purification demands new sacrifices. It is the setting of the poem in a Punjab village and the use of imagery from a typical village scene, i.e., symbols of day’s ending through the images of cattle coming back from their grazing grounds and birds making their noisy clamour of early evening gatherings on the trees, that kindles memories of familiar scenes in the readers’ mind and adds to the overall charm and haunting quality of the poem. Shiv’s descriptions of the village scenes are authentic in all of their details. It was a common practice in the villages to accept payment for services in kind (bhara), which the poet offers in the form of his tears. With the nightfall, a complete silence falls on Punjab’s villages and in the still air, a cloud of smoke engulfs them. Shiv has used this image to develop the symbol of winds that have gone to sleep as if tired of the daylong wailings and the illusion of the warmth of a light fever emitting from the stars. The death is not presented as something to be afraid of, but rather a welcome and necessary next stage of poet’s journey through his sufferings. The pain, the agony and the hurry to reach the next stage, death, none of them are depicted as the usual and mindless grief of a broken heart. They are described as part of a deliberate and determined process, the purpose of which is fully understood, accepted and desired by the poet.

Those are some of the qualities of Shiv’s popular poems. In most of his poems, the listener and reader encounter the same familiar characteristics of Punjabi classical poetry: simple language and idiom of village folks; celebration of death; lyricism; images and metaphors of rural Punjab and skilful depictions of Punjabi culture.

Shiv stands out among all Punjabi poets in his unique representation of various colours and shades of Punjabi culture.

‘Out of the lush green fecundity of the soil of Punjab, resonant as it always is with nature’s music and colours, and even out of its arid and bleak landscape, Shiv carved out immortal motifs, images, symbols, legends and myths, which only a few rare Punjabi poets have ever explored before him with such consummate power. As a poet with a profound folk consciousness he captured the fantasy and the mystery of the Punjabi countryside and its people. He invoked their rituals, totems and taboos, folk traditions, folksy memories, racial consciousness, curses and wails, death charades, earthen lamps on the graves and shrines, the wooden parrots on the biers, broken dolls’ heads, the cursed womb, the fatal she-snake and the choked blind well. In his unified sensibility he integrated his inner ferment in terms of modern dilemma, deeply embedded and rooted in the locale and the habitat, fauna and flora of the earth that he loved and lived on. Shiv Batalvi fertilized the psyche of the Punjabi language and enriched its poetic tradition as its supremely gifted, solitary and passionate singer.’ [Sharma 1979, 5]


Shiv was a very versatile and supremely gifted poet. His poetry includes poems written on many different subjects and a variety of styles. He could write traditional Punjabi folks songs, as well as, poems in post-modern diction and in many other verse forms. The only labels that may properly apply to Shiv’s poetry are human-ism and Punjabi-ism. The deep pain and sorrow of some of his poetry can best be understood in the larger context of a Punjabi’s reaction to the crisis of human identity in modern times. He articulated the tragedy of breakdown of Punjab’s traditional society under the onslaught of modernization. He had lived his childhood in a traditional village social set up that offered the poise, equilibrium, stability, tranquillity and self-assurance of Punjabi culture. Early in his adolescence, he experienced the sudden death of this centuries old way of living. For a large part of his versatile poetry, Shiv embraced the identity of a Punjabi folk storyteller and viewed the massive disruptions around him from the historical perspective of someone deeply immersed in Punjabi folklore. He became the passionate voice of millions of others who were, and still are, going through the same crisis. His poetry became a vast treasure of the fond memories of sights, sounds and symbols of the way of living and the scenery of rural Punjab, never so beautifully recorded in such breathtaking details except by the Great Master of Punjabi poetry, Waris Shah. Ultimately, his permanent place among great Punjabi poets is affirmed by his ever-growing popularity. He seems to have passed the test for determining the status of faqirs, equally applicable to poets, laid down by Sultan Bahu as:

Naam faqir tinhan da Bahu, qabar jinhan dee jeevay hoo.
(Bahu, only they deserve to be called faqirs, whose graves live forever after their death).



[1]Shiv’s date of birth as recorded on his horoscope is July 23, 1936, while a latter birth date, October 23, 1937 is recorded on his matriculation certificate that was the only official birth record at that time. The earlier date is generally accepted to be more accurate. It was a common practice by some parents in India to intentionally advance the birth date of their children in the school records to later provide them extra time to apply for government services that had age-limits for hiring in different cadres. Shiv’s father, himself a government employee in the Revenue Department, was probably well aware of the advantage of advancing Shiv’s birth date in the school records. [Bir 2000].

[2]Shiv’s grandfather’s name was Mehnga Lal (Mehnga means precious). He married twice. He had three sons. The eldest son was Buwa Dita who was from his first wife and became a schoolteacher. Mehnga Lal’s first wife died early and he married again. He had two sons from his second wife, Krishan Gupal, Shiv’s father, and Ram Lal. [Rammah unpublished].

[3]Shiv also had two younger brothers and two younger sisters. His elder brother Davarka had passed away. Mrs. Davarka lives in the family house in Prem Nagar, Batala. His younger brother, Subhash Batalvi lives in Panchkula (a town in the suburbs of Chandigarh) and Suresh Batalvi in Delhi. His younger sister Surinder, whose husband Varinder passed away in 2002, lives in Chandigarh. His youngest sister, Saroj and her husband Baldev Mehta are settled in Toronto, Canada. [Mahal. Int. 2002] and [Dass. Int. 2002].

[4]The whole section ‘The Village’ and first two paragraphs of the next section ‘The Childhood’ are solely based on a detailed research report prepared by Aziz-ul-Haque Rammah. He conducted this research on the request of the authors during October 2002 by visiting Bara Pind Lohtian and interviewing a number of old people who have lived in that village since pre-partition times and have known Shiv and his family. People living in Bara Pind Lohtian, even the young ones, are quite familiar with Shiv as a great Punjabi poet. [Rammah, unpublished].

[5]The poem Dudh Da Qatal is part of the last collection of Shiv’s poetry Birha Tun Sultan, published posthumously in 1975. It has poems from different periods of Shiv’s life that were not included in his previous books. In its form and diction, Dudh Da Qatal appears to belong to the same period when Shiv composed his last book Mein Te Mein.

[6]Suman Kashyap, who is working on a book project of English translations of Shiv’s poetry, has kindly provided some of her unpublished translations for this paper.

[7]Prem Nagar is now also known as Shiv Batalvi Nagar. A billboard at the entrance of the Prem Nagar has the name of the muhalla as ‘Shiv Batalvi Nagar. [Dass. Int. 2002].

[8]Before partition Qadian was the headquarter of Ahmadiyya community. After partition, Ahmadis migrated to Pakistan and established their headquarter in Rabwah, dist. Jhang. A small contingent of about 300 Ahmadis was left in Qadian to look after their holy places. S.N College was established after partition in the same building that Ahmadi’s had built for their high school for boys.

[9]Shiv never attended any training to pass the examination for becoming a patwari. At that time, Punjab’s patwari’s were on a strike that lasted a long time. Shiv’s father probably used his influence to get Shiv hired without going through the training and other pre-requisites for joining the service. [Kahlon 1974].

[10]Prior to that, he had written some poetry in Urdu and had tried his hand at a couple of short stories. Shiv was well versed in Urdu and Persian script since Urdu was the medium of instructions in Punjab’s schools before partition. Shiv learned to write Punjabi in Gurmukhi script sometime around 1957. [Hasrat 1980].

[11]Among the Punjabi Sufi poets, Shiv was particularly fond of the poetry of Shah Hussain and Waris Shah. He had also thoroughly studied the Kalam of Baba Nanak and other Sikh Gurus. Some of the expressions he used in his poetry, e.g., mere ram jeeyo, were taken directly from Adi Garanth. [Hasrat 1980].

[12]A few recordings of Shiv’s recitation of his poetry in his own voice, made during his trip to England, are posted on the Web at : Punjabi Poetry Audio - Shiv Kumar Batalvi

[13]Shiv was around 5 feet 9 inches tall, of fair complexion, slim and smart and very handsome. He had large beautiful eyes and thick black hair. He was generally very well dressed. [Gill Int. 2002].

[14]His earlier books were published by Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana that was owned by Jeevan Singh. The only royalty that Shiv would receive from him was mostly in kind in the form of a suite or a bottle of whisky and sometimes return fare whenever Shiv visited him in Ludhiana. [Gill Int. 2002].

[15]Prior to around 1970, Shiv was not a regular drinker. His drinking habits were not different from an average drinker in his circle of friends and writers. They can be characterized as occasional light drinking and once in a while hard drinking at gatherings of friends or parties. The stories depicting Shiv as a life-long alcoholic could not be verified by the authors and are apparently based on his infrequent bouts of heavy drinking at certain occasions. Even when he became a regular drinker, he seldom got drunk. Kuldip Takhar, at whose house Shiv stayed for a couple of months during his trip to England, stated in a recent interview with the author (Rammah) that Shiv would start drinking in the morning by taking a few sips of Scotch and would continue that, a couple of sips at a time with long intervals, throughout the day. He would almost never get drunk. [Takhar. Int. 2002].

[16]He refused to get admitted in the hospital for medical check up. Kuldip Takhar, at whose place Shiv stayed for a while in London, states that he once insisted to take Shiv to the doctor for check-up, saying that ‘Shiv, you will die if you won’t get proper medical treatment.’ Shiv’s reply was ‘Tell me something that I don’t already know!’ [Takhar, Int. 2002].

[17]Most of the harsh criticism of Shiv’s poetry came from two main schools of thoughts in the contemporary Punjabi Poetry. From the major poets and writers of Nexalite movement, led by Avatar Singh Pash, Dr. Jagtar and a few others. The other group of poets who condemned Shiv’s poetry belonged to the experimental school of poetry led by Jasbir Auhluwalia and Ravinder Ravi. [Gill. Int. 2002].

[18]After Shiv’s death, Dr. Harcharan Singh, head of Punjabi Department, offered his wife Aruna a job in Punjabi University Patiala as library assistant. Aruna still works there and lives in a house in the University campus. Meharban completed his M. Phil in Punjabi from Punjabi University, Patiala. He is married and lives with her mother. Puja completed M.A. and M. Phil in economics from Punjabi University, Patiala. She is now working on her doctorate thesis. She is married and settled in Cincinnati, USA, with her husband Jay Dev Sharma. They have a daughter, Shivana. [Mahal. Int. 2002].

[19]Shiv took poetry writing as a very serious work. He would normally wake up during early morning hours to compose poetry in a totally peaceful environment. He would sit crossed-legged on the floor in a corner of his room. He would finalize a poem only when he was completely satisfied with it in all respects, editing it many times and sometimes discarding some otherwise exceptionally beautiful lines. Sometimes the idea of a poem would stay with him for a long period of time and Shiv would compose it by jotting down couple of lines at a time. He had a great command on the proper techniques and conventions of writing poetry in many different forms and could readily pinpoint the errors and weaknesses in other poets’ compositions. [Kahlon. Int. 2002].

[20]Dr. Darshan Gill, a famous Punjabi poet and critic, who had personally known Shiv Kumar Batalvi and Harbhajan Singh (1920-2002) and have followed their poetic careers, disagrees with the statement that Shiv Kumar Batalvi copied Harbhajan Singh’s style. On the contrary, according to Dr. Gill, in early sixties Harbhajan Singh got impressed with Shiv’s lyricism and started writing poetry in his style and diction. Harbhajan Singh, who mostly wrote his poetry in free verse, published his first book of lyrical poetry, Adh Vainy (Midnight), after Shiv was already established as a popular poet. [Gill. Int. 2002].

[21]Punjabi singers, on a much smaller scale as compared to Shiv’s poetry, have also made commercial recordings of the poetry of a number of other established Modern Punjabi poets. Among them, Prof. Mohan Singh, Nand Lal Nurpuri and Manzur Jhalla have so far been the other favorites of Punjabi singers. Nand Lal Nurpuri and Manzur Jhalla mostly wrote popular folk songs. Ahmad Rahi was the most popular Punjabi film songwriter.


1. Bhandari, Mohan (1973) ‘Ek Raat’ {censored}e (July 1973).
2. Bir, Surinder (2000) ‘Shiv Kumar – Jeevan Ate Kavita’ Waris Shah Foundation, Amritsar.
3 Duggal, Kartar Singh & Sekhon, Sant Singh (1992) ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, India.
4. Eliot, T. S. (1997) ‘The Sacred Wood and Major Early Essays’ (Essay: The Perfect Critic) Dover Publication, Incorporated.
5. Gargi, Balwant (ed. 2000) ‘Kaudian Wala Sapp’ Navyug Publishers, New Delhi.
6. Gargi, Balwant (ed. 2000) ‘Surme Walee Akh’ Navyug Publishers, New Delhi.
7. Gargi, Balwant (ed. 2000) ‘Haseen Chehre’ Navyug Publishers, New Delhi
8. Hasrat, Sukhpalvir Singh (1980) ‘Shiv Kumar – Ek Thathan Marda Samundar’ Maseeha, Ropar (2).
9. Kahlon, Mohan (1972) ‘Pardesi Rukh’ New Book Co., Mai Hiran Gate, Jalandhar.
10. Kahlon, Mohan (1973) ‘ Machhali Ik Dariya Ditt’ Hind Pocket Book Pvt. Ltd., G.T.Road, Shahdra, Delhi-32.
11. Kahlon, Mohan (1974) ‘Geetan Da Maseeha’ Des Pardes, London (April 28).
12. Kahlon, Mohan (1975) ‘Gori Nadi Da Geet’ Bhai Chattar Singh, Jiwan Singh, Amritsar.
13. Kahlon, Mohan (1990) ‘ Kali Mitti’ Nanak Singh Pustak Mala, Locket Printers, Chowk Bhai Bhauriwala, Amritsar.
14. Kanwal, Surjit Singh (1995) ‘Loona Da Dukhant - Shiv Kumar’ Literature House, Putlighar, Amritsar.
15. Kanwal, Surjit Singh (1996) ‘Shiv Kumar Kav Vich Birha’ Central Publishers, Ludhiana.
16. Kasail, Navtej Kaur (2001) ‘Shiv Kumar Di Prageetak Kavita’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
17. Kaur, Balwinder (1998) ‘Qoulan Da Kacha – Shiv Kumar Batalvi’ Aar Paar, Mississauga, Canada (October).
18. Komal, Amar (1979) ‘Shiv Kumar’s Loona Da Kav-lok ‘ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
19. Pal, Amrit Lal (1998) ‘ Shiv Kumar Batalavi – Jeevan Te Rachna’ Rahul Publication, Punjabi University, Patiala.
20. Pash, Avtar Singh (Editor: Chandan, Amarjit) (1993) ‘Apne Naal Gallan-Pash Di Diary’ Lok Katha, 22, Malri, Nakodar, Punjab.
21. Pooni, Amrik Singh (1989 ) ‘Shiv Kumar : Rachna Sansar’ Punjab Academy, Pahar Ganj, New Delhi.
22. Preetam, Amrita, (1997) ‘Prashan Lila’ Shilalekh Publications, Delhi.
23. Rammah, Aziz-ul-Haque (Unpublished) ‘Research Report on Shiv Kumar Batalvi’s Place of Birth.’
24. Saini, Pritam (1979 ) ‘Shiv Kumar Batalavi - Chintan Te Kala, “Peeran Da Paraga” De Vishesh Adhiyann Sahit’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
25. Saini, Pritam (1983) ‘Shiv Kumar – Ik Punarmulankan Loona De Adhaar Te’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
26. Sekhon, Sant Singh (1985) ‘Luna,’ Bharati Journal of Comparative Literature, (1, No. 1, pp 55-158).
27. Sharma, O.P. (1979) ‘Shiv Batalvi – A Solitary and Passionate Singer’ Sterling Publishers, New Delhi.
28. Singh, Deepak Manmohan (2001) ‘Kaam, Kamna Ate Shiv Kav’ Chetna Prakashan, Punjabi
Bhavan, Ludhiana.
29. Singh, Pankaj K. (2000) ‘Re-Presenting Women: Tradition, Legend and Panjabi Drama’ Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Rashtrapati Nivas, Shimla.
30. Singhal, Dharam Pal and Jaura, Avtar ( 1979) ‘Shiv Kumar Da Kaav Jagat’ New Book Co., Jalandhar.
31. Singh, Gurdial (1979) ‘Shiv Kumar Ik Adhhyaen’ Nanak Singh Pustak Mala, Amritsar.
32. Singh, Manjit Dr. (1994) ‘Glimpses of Modern Punjabi Literature’ Arun Publishing House Pvt. Ltd., Chandigarh, India.
33. Singh, Manmohan (1983) ‘Shiv Kumar Batalvi: Jevan Te Kavita’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
34. Singh, Shinderpal (2000) ‘Shiv Kavita Ate Myth’ Lokgeet Prakashan, Chandigarh.
35. Sital, Jeet Singh (1982) ‘Shiv Kumar Batalavi – Jeevan Te Rachna’ Publication Bureau, Punjabi University, Patiala.

Special Issue of Magazines

1. Naagmani (1973) Special Issue on Shiv Kumar Batalvi, edited by Amrita Preetam, New Delhi (32).
2. Punjabi Duniyan, (February 1983) Special Issue on Shiv Kumar Batalvi,1-2, Languages Department Punjab, Patiala.
3. Maseeha (1980), Special Issue on Shiv Kumar Batalvi, edited by Ajit Kaur/S.Kuldip, Ropar (2)
4. {censored}e, (July 1973) Special Issue on Shiv Kumar Batalvi.


1. Bhandari, Mohan [2002]. (Contemporary and friend of Shiv Kumar Batalavi). Interviewed by the author (Sharma).
2. Chandan, Amarjit [2002]. (Punjabi poet and writer). Interviewed by the author (Rammah).
3. Batalvi, Kailash. [2002]. (Wife of Davaraka Dass Batalvi, the elder brother of Shiv Kumar Batalvi). Interviewed by the author (Sharma).
4. Gill, Darshan Singh Dr. [Punjabi writer, poet, critic and a close friend of Shiv Kumar Batalvi). Interviewed by the author (Rammah).
5. Kahlon, Mohan [2002]. (Punjabi writer and close friend of Shiv Kumar Batalavi). Interviewed by the author (Sharma) and Dr Jagtar Dhiman.
6. Mahal, Iqbal [2002]. (Writer, TV Producer and Shiv’s family friend). Interviewed by the author (Rammah).
7. Manhas, Rajinder [2002]. (Shiv’s acquaintance and resident of Chandigarh). Interviewed by the author (Rammah).
8. Takhar, Kuldip [2002]. (Punjabi writer and Shiv’s host in England). Interviewed by the author (Rammah).
9. Talwar, Preetam [2002]. (A close friend and neighbour of Mrs. Davaraka Dass). Interviewed by the author (Sharma).

Shiv Kumar’s Collections of Poetry

1. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1960) ‘Peeran Da Paraga’ Lok Sahit Prakashan, Amritsar.
2. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1961) ‘Lajwanti’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
3. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1962) ‘Atte Dian Chirian’ Lok Sahit Prakashan, Amritsar.
4. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1963) ‘Mainoo Vida Karo’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
5. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1964) ‘Dardmandan Deean Aheen’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
6. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1965) ‘Loonan’ Lok Sahit Prakashan, Amritsar.
7. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1970) ‘Mein Te Mein’ Navyug Publishers, Delhi.
8. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1971) ‘Aarti’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.
9. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (1975) ‘Birha Toon Sultan’ Lahore Book Shop, Ludhiana.

Books edited by Shiv Kumar Batalavi

1. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (Editor) (1966) ‘Je Main Mar Jaawan’ New Book Co., Jalandhar.
2. Batalvi, Shiv Kumar (Editor) (1968) ‘Gazlan Wali Daccni’ Language Department, Punjab.
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Jun 1, 2004
Re: Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-1973)

The Poet of Gloom and Doom was a Good Laugh
By Amarjit Chandan

Among the post-1947 generation of Punjabi poets, Shiv Kumar (SK) is perhaps the most popular poet. He has the same sort of following as painter Sobha Singh has for his kitsch paintings like Sohni Mahival and Gurdas Mann for his hollow songs. Sant Singh Sekhon, who once called SK as the Keats of Punjabi poetry, defined SK’s creative limitations in his introduction to his English rendering of SK’s Luna (1985):

‘When he [SK] first shot into prominence, he was at once noted for the peculiar charm of his diction and imagery and for his tone of decadent passion and existential despair. His favourite themes were the ache of desire, the melancholy of love and the fascination of death. …Young poets who make a startling initial effect by talking like disappointed old people are found generally to have walked into a dead alley. Shiv Kumar, with very modest education, seemed peculiarly to be such a poet.’
Luna, English version, MS, in my collection
Sekhon’s precise insight sums up the man and the poet. I am not the only person to be in total agreement with Sekhon.
It is a common view amongst Punjabi literary circles that SK’s poetry revolves around unfulfilled adolescent romance. It is all gloom and doom. Morbid imagery is recurrent in almost all his poems e.g. tears, pain, separation, poison, malady and death. He weaves words with pleasant lyrical sounds, which carry away the Punjabi reader without giving much thought to their actual meanings. A contemporary of SK said: Shiv’s poetry is like the stringed musical toy, which is music to your ears while the seller plays it. But in your hands it is just clay.
Though it is a cliché that poetry is impossible to translate, but most of the time the real worth of a poem is put to test when it is translated into another language; in this instance from Punjabi into English. This is another way of deconstructing the text. As an example I cite titles of two of SK’s poems: Vidhwa Rut (The Widowed Season) and HanjhuaN dee Chhabil (Tears dealt out gratuitously to slake thirst). The Punjabi word chhabil has no equivalent in English. It is a variation on the Arabic word sabil, especially a stall put up during Muharram to offer water or soft drinks to passers-by. In Punjab during the month of June, when the summer is at its peak, Punjabis of all denominations put up such stalls – chhabils. I quote a typical couplet from one of SK’s poems titled HanjhuaN de Gah (The Harvetsing of Tears):
jahi laRhi merey kaljey te birhoN dee dhamuRhi
merey jeriaN da arsh te pataal sujjia.
What a terrible wasp of separation it was, who stung my heart
The sky and the abyss of my heart got swollen.
Birha tu Sultan, 1975
The English version of the above lines is a faithful rendering of the original in Punjabi, though the wasp in Punjabi is not of neutral gender; it is she. I can testify that the couplet is as meaningless in the original as it is in the translation.
A random survey of Shiv Kumar’s fans would reveal that his popularity is based on just four or five poems. The top of the pop being mainu paiN birhoN de keeRhey ve (May I be infested with the maggots of separation). Him being handsome with wailing singing voice is another factor. He fits into the popular image of tragic hero, who dies young. He is the Devdas of Punjabi poetry. Unfortunately his later poems written during the rise of Maoist-Naxalite movement in East Punjab in the late 1960s especially Rukh nu fansi (A Tree Hanged) are little known. He tried in vain to be ‘modern’ and did write some prayogvadi experimental poems comparing bottles of beer lying on the table with ballistic missiles. Through Navtej Singh (d 1981), the editor of Preet Lari, SK flirted with the communists and read his poem Nehru de Varisan nu (To the Heirs of Nehru) in the Communist Party of India (CPI) congress held in Bombay in 1964. CPI’s and Preet Lari’s soft corner towards Nehru is well known. Even Navtej Singh found the poem politically naive and edited it before it was published in his magazine. I was close to Navtej Singh and worked under him for a while as an editor of Preet Lari. It all happened before my eyes, as it were.
Though SK borrowed some of his diction from Sufibani and titled one of his collection Birha tu Sultan after Sheikh Farid in the Adi Granth, he failed to take his work to the level of spirituality. Some recent academic studies claim that Shah Hussain was SK’s inspiration. It is worth noting here that Shah Hussain’s work was turned down by Guru Arjan Dev (1563–1606), when he had visited the fifth Guru in Amritsar to impress upon him to include his work in the Adi Granth. [As quoted in Gurshabad Ratnakar Mahankosh – Encyclopaedia of Sikh Literature, Bhai Kahn Singh, Reprint 1990; Ithas Sri Guru Granth Sahib (A History of Guru Granth Sahib), Giani Gurdit Singh, 1990]. If Shah Hussain was SK’s role model, then why he picked up his diction only and not his philosophy of Sufism? In my conversations with Sohan Qadri, a painter-poet and a close friend of SK has to say: ‘Shiv Kumar was a good laugh, but he was not deep.’ Hun-khin (The Present Moment in Time), Navyug 2000.
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