Who doesn’t love Shiv Kumar Batalvi! On his 48th demise anniversary, Punjabi singers talks about their everlasting inspiration– the Birha da Sultan

Gurnaaz Kaur

He is gone, but the lilt in his verses lives on. Shiv Kumar Batalvi is Punjab’s first modern poet who may be called Birha da Sultan (the poet of lament), but his genre wasn’t limited to pathos. His writings are replete with true love and passion and the agony that these emotions bring. Much of his lyrics are written to be sung. Indeed, Batalvi himself has done beautiful renditions of his poetry in songs. Reading his work is an exhilarating experience. It touches your heart and leaves you mesmerised. What must it be like to create music around his lyrics?

Rabbi Shergill, in his debut album Rabbi, sang Batalvi’s poem Ishtehaar in a very contemporary pop ballad setting. “I was a lot younger and was looking for something that resonated with my experience at that time. Shiv Batalvi is somebody so beautiful with his words. He is a great poet, one of my foundational references. I keep going back to him and love him to bits.”

Emotional connect

Independent singer Jasleen Royal also began her career with Batalvi’s poem Maye Ni and Panchi Ho Jaavan. In her raw singing style, she made the songs popular for all age groups. It was all about the connect Jasleen had with his poetry. “It was the first song I ever released. I came across his poetry and while I was reading it, the words started to get woven into a melody and my song was there. That is the quality of his words. The words have so much emotion and a natural rhythm.” For Rabbi, too, there is another connect that of land. “He is from the Majha region where I come from, so I understand that dialect a little closely and I am partial to it. It’s very seductive to me even now.”

When sufi singer-songwriter Satinder Sartaj mentions Batalvi in his poetry, that’s a reflection of the love the singer has in Punjabiyat. “He was the person who gave the most astonishing metaphors to the Punjabi poetry. His craft was massively enriching. Particularly in the linguistic references he has given multiple dimensions.”

Love & Tears

It’s indeed a big deal for every Punjabi how Shiv Kumar Batavi made the vernacular of this land eternal. And eternal is its hold in Hans Raj Hans’ heart who in his own way worships Shiv. “When Shiv would sing Maye Ni Maye, it felt like the whole universe is crying with him. In my eyes, he was a Godly person who lived and died in love. Every person does fall in love, they experience its magic but after a period of time, those feelings die down, but Shiv was one such person who lived in love till the end.”

Remembering the days when Hans would sing Shiv’s poetry, he says, “I would get so emotional that we would stop the recording, I would come back to normal and then sing and then I would end up in tears again in no time. His words brought this warmth that no words can explain. They were burning with honesty and passion. He was special, like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who may have not lived long but such people are a wonder. They come for a short period of time but give mankind a huge treasure.”

Favourite verse

If today, Hans was to pick a poem to sing, he says, “It would be Lokan mere geet sun laye par dard na kise ne jaaneya, lakhan mere sees chumde.”

For Satinder Sartaj, it isn’t an easy choice but if he has to, then “I would compose and sing Thhabba Ku Zulfa’n waleya!”

After so many years, Rabbi would pick “There are too many. May be the entire Loona or Peeran Da Paraga or Loki Pujan Rab.”

You can’t settle for one. These timeless gems are a forever inspiration, just like the person Shiv was.

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