While the 1960s were the time of Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley and the Beatles on the international scene, nearer home in Punjab and Chandigarh it was the time of the superstar of poetry: the young Shiv Kumar Batalvi (July 23, 1936-May 6, 1973). It was a time when poets were much in demand and the ideal of the youth would be one or the other versifier and love would be expressed in couplets. Batalvi with his passion, pathos and high romance rose like a meteor to become the ideal of every young man and the dream of every young woman.
Come May and it is time again to remember this phenomenon, the youngest to win the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1967 and enjoy immense popularity during his lifetime. He was good-looking and had a melodious voice. His fame multiplied after his death and he died young living up to the great decadent romantic lure of wine, women and song. His poetry was rooted in the soil and inspired by folk songs and tragic ‘quissas’ it went straight to the hearts of the listeners.
Remembering the poet on his 43rd death anniversary, Bishambar Shambi, a fan-turned-friend says: “He was a true hero of our times and had a cult following. I met him for the first time when I was in the first year at Government College, Sangrur, in 1961. His popularity was growing those days and we were thrilled that we would see him and hear him live. We would read his poems in magazines and I sang one of his poems at the symposium. He came and hugged me saying I had got the nuances just right. This is how a note of friendship was struck.”
Shambi, who worked as an Indian Airlines executive, is well known for singing Shiv’s poetry soulfully in the style patented by the poet. “I loved his voice and style and tried to emulate it. We would be together at many symposia and festivals. At one meet in Bathinda, he was indisposed and asked me to sing his verses. This was to happen many times later,” recalls Shambi. A regret he voices is that Shiv’s enormous popularity earned him foes among senior poets. “It was Amrita Pritam who encouraged his talent and I have accompanied him to her home for many memorable poetic evenings. Poets come and go but Shiv’s fame was unparalleled. He had a job with the State Bank of India on the basis of his talent and all he was expected to do was to sit in a cabin and write or muse.”
Shambi sums up the memories saying, “The time spent with him was very rich and I only wish he had lived longer and written more.”