Roundabout: The endearing story of the lost girl named Love
The first time I set my eyes on the picture of the lovely Preet Nagar girl was way back in 1978 when, smitten by the love and legend of Punjabi poet, the late Shiv Batalvi, a friend and I decided to write a book on his life and times. We were visiting his wife Arun and she was showing us the album that held memories of her husband. She stopped at a page with a black and white portrait of a comely girl. Before we could ask, Arun said with half a smile: “She is Anu, Shiv’s friend”. We didn’t ask for more because the legend was well known, as were the beautiful songs the poet wrote pining for her: Ik kurhi jida naam mohabbat gum hai (A girl named Love is lost), or Main ik shikra yaar banaya
(I made a bird of prey my friend) and many others.
This month when Anusuya, the youngest daughter of the famed literary doyen Gurbaksh Singh Preetlari, passed away at the ripe age of 84, a pandora’s box of the whys and hows of the rumoured romance opened.
Speculation then started about a likely Kaidon (villain in the folk saga of Heer-Ranjha) who could have extinguished the flame. It started with a small, well-intended edit in Kitab Trinjan, a literary and cultural site for the two Punjabs of the subcontinent. The title of the short tribute read: Anusuya, the ‘first love’ of Shiv Kumar passes away. A leading Punjab paper picked it up along with the reactions of the family members to the Facebook post. Anusuya’s nephew dismissed it as “more of a myth created by Shiv”.
Poonam Singh, editor of Preetlari came forward with a more convincing opinion based on woman-to-woman conversations with the aunt, stating Anusuya did admit to a passion for the poet, adding, “No, Shiv did not create a myth, but should have been more sporting perhaps, definitely he was hurt and felt sad.”
“If a writer falls in love with you, you can never die,” is a quotable quote by American author Mik Everett. Thus this lost girl named Love lived in the collective consciousness of the Punjabi literati all these years and her passing away brought alive the romance which many of Shiv’s fans angrily said was nipped in the bud.
However, family sources confirm that seeing the budding passion the father asked her if she wanted to marry Shiv and Anu, as she was called, declined despite the passion. As she reflected later: “I could not see myself as his wife”. The father then advised her to concentrate on her studies. Poonam says with reverence to Gurbaksh Singh: “This was not a Jatt family nor had the Jatt attitude for their daughters and daughters-in-law. He stood by all his girls.”
But there is more to Anusuya than just this story of young romance. She was a student from the first batch of the Patrice Lumumba Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (PFU) in 1960. The PFU was established in 1960 to provide higher education to Third World students. In university, she fell in love with Raul Jesus Estevez Laprea, who was studying physics. In 1965, they moved to Venezuela. Both of them taught in Merida University. She was a well-regarded professor of English and is survived by their two sons and a daughter.
Her story would be incomplete without the obit note her eldest son Steve Esteves wrote for her. Commenting on skills and talent, he writes: “She wrote perfectly in four alphabets (Sanskrit, Arabic, Cyrillic and Latin), spoke perfect four languages (Punjabi, Russian, English and Spanish) and understood others. With love, he writes: “Very rarely have I met someone more cultured than her. At 15 years I had already had to read Anais Nin’s diaries, I knew the story of Henry Miller or Isadora Duncan’s scarf. When at 17 I went to see the great museums in Europe I already knew the paintings by heart because she told me about them.”
The life of Anusuya, the rebel of the 1950s-60s, was indeed well lived and she visited Shiv’s family after his passing away and also in her last trip to the country. She also told Poonam that she had named a star after Shiv and gazed at it.
And now, coming to Shiv, our beloved poet, what comes to the mind is yet another quote by the British expatriate novelist Lawrence Durrel in the Alexandria Quartet: “There are only three things to be done with a woman. You can love her, suffer for her, or turn her into literature”. Well, Shiv did all the three things, going on in life and marrying the amazingly supportive Arun, who lived the role of his wife with love, siring two lovely children till death intervened.
That is how life moves on and Anusuya’s passing away should be remembered fondly as also Shiv’s for it was his choice. We have all seen the joys and sorrows of a lost love and this is certainly no time for quibbles.