Being a Punjabi and belonging to the same city from where famous Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi hails, it was a moment of utter pride for me when I saw a photo of the iconic poet alongside the photos of Father of Nation Mahatma Gandhi and former President APJ Abdul Kalam at the office of Katra block medical officer (BMO) Dr Gopal Sharma.
When asked, Dr Sharma said: “I am a big fan of the poet and his literature inspires me a lot.” He starts his day by taking inspiration from the writings of this great poet.
But the situation at Batala, the poet’s native place, is in juxtapose to what I saw at Katra — the condition of the only auditorium in the town erected in memory of the poet bears a dismal picture, perhaps, because the memory of the poet has faded away from our minds and we no longer do care for his legacy.
The poet himself wouldn’t have expected this from his native people, as he had once said: “Eh lohe da shehar te, pittal de dillan de wasde ne lok aithe (It’s a city made of iron while people of this city have hearts of brass).”
Batalvi was the youngest recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1967 conferred by the Sahitya Akademi and is also known as John Keats of Punjabi language. He has penned down some of the best Punjabi poetries. Batalvi breathed his last on May 6, 1973.
In memory of this eminent poet and to pay homage to him, the foundation stone of an auditorium was laid in the heart of the town in 1980 by the then Punjab governor Aminudin Ahmad.
The same year, a Shiv Batalvi Memorial Trust was formed under the chairmanship of the then Gurdaspur deputy commissioner Ashok Kumar Kundra and the Batala sub-divisional magistrate was made its president for the upkeep of the auditorium.
Even 34 years after its foundation stone was laid, the auditorium was still lying in shambles. In March 2010, on the poet's 75th birth anniversary, deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal had promised for the upgradation and maintenance of the auditorium to a world-class cultural center, in which world-renowned artists would be invited to perform and live through the magic of this imminent poet, who left behind indelible prints on the psyche of all culture-loving people around the world.
Following the announcement, Batala SDM prepared an estimated budget of Rs 1.83 crore, which was sanctioned and released by the state government and the construction work had been started.
However, the construction work suspended after some time for the reasons better known to the officials.
When contacted SS Nijjar, president, Shiv Kumar Batalvi Art and Culture Society, blamed the government machinery behind the inordinate delay in the renovation of the auditorium.
“Though the society was formed and I was appointed as president by the state government, there was no meeting of
the society for the last few months. Even the construction has been stopped.”
He added that he had already brought the entire matter into the notice of the state government and would leave no stone unturned for the completion of this auditorium.
We, too, hope that our effort to highlight the issue will succeed and the government will take do the needful.