You may remember some time ago, I mentioned here about my very good friend, who happens to be a Sikh, and how he tends to get deeper and deeper into things than anybody else I’ve known?
He is one hell of a moody guy…..very well educated, very well spoken and impeccably mannered, too.
But as I said, he has this uncanny habit of looking at things at a tangent to everybody else….thinking out of the box is very definitely his forte!
I dunno…maybe he’s some kinda genius or something…isn’t that a trait shared by them all?
Anyway, he called me recently and said he had something he wanted me to hear, but I would need to hear it in person, not on the phone. So I agreed to meet him at my favorite dive in downtown Vancouver here, the Smile diner.
He was already there when I arrived and so I ordered a couple of coffees and sat down.
Pleasantries over, he pulled out his tatty journal hat he carries around everywhere, and asked me to listen…these are the words he spoke:Do not sing My song. I must sing this song Myself, And then die. This song is more soiled than the earth, As old as the sun, For many births I have had to carry
The weight of its words. No one else has the ability To bring voice to it. This song was born with me, And will die with me. I must sing this song Myself, And then die. This song has a rare melody, It is filled with pain. It is like the shriek of cranes Heard from distant mountains in autumn. Or the clamor of birds in a forest, Heard in a chaste dawn. Or the sound of the wind flowing through high grasses Heard on a black night. I must sing this song Myself, And then die. When I and my songs Both die, They who ran away from me
Will seek out my grave. With one voice, They will declare, “Only a very few are fated To shoulder such pain.” Do not sing This song of mine. I must sing this song Myself, And then die.
This short poem was written by an Indian poet called Shiv Kumar Batalvi, who had a very short life, passing away at just 35 years of age, officially from chronic alcoholism, but spiritually, his followers say, because of a broken heart.
To tell you the truth, the poetry did not really hit home straight away with me…as is always the case with translations, something that’s contained in the original language somehow goes amiss, so it was not until my friend told me about the writer and his life, that I fully began to understand where his words of despair and anguish seemed to be emanating from.
My friend told me a little about this poet, whose name is completely unknown in the West, but who is always fondly remembered in his native country.
Born in 1936 in India, Shiv was always fascinated by the little things in life, the birds, the thorns on plants growing in the fields, the wandering singers who would come and sing their songs of pain, love, and a thousand other things, at his village.
He enrolled at a local University, but gradually moved away from studies, to recite and sing ghazals to his friends and classmates…the ghazal is a classical rendition of poetry, rather like opera in the West.
Of course, poetry and singing took up all his time, so there was no question of him graduating, something which alienated his father from him. At around this time, Shiv met a girl called Maina, whom he developed a love for, but after much searching, when he finally arrived at her hometown, he heard that she had been killed in an accident.
This was the first tragedy that was to mold his life from then on. He later wrote a poem entitled Maina, alluding to the girl who was not destined to be his.
Sometime afterwards, he was attracted to another beautiful girl, the daughter of a well-known Punjabi writer. This union was again not destined to be, for as is still the custom in India apparently even nowadays, people of different religion or castes will only very rarely inter-marry, and even if they do, they are often the target of idle chatter for the rest of their lives!
Thus it was, that Shiv was again denied his affection for this girl, as her father refused to let them marry, on account of his daughter being a Sikh and Shiv being a Hindu.
He did finally marry however, and to all intents and purposes, it was a very happy marriage which produced 2 children that Shiv adored.
In the early 70s, he attended a gathering of famous Indian poets in Bombay….when his time came to mount the stage, he did so, announcing in a loud voice “Almost everyone has begun to consider himself a poet these days…each and every person on the streets is writing a poem….”
The speech created a hush in the venue, which was further strengthened by his heart-rending poetry.
As my friend said, many people suggested Shiv was just a bohemian, always under the influence of alcohol.
He died in 1973, with empty bottles and half-full glasses at his side.
But as they say, people who have such genius inside of them, sometimes metaphorically have to die in a blaze, so that the blaze may create a light, an luminance, for the world to see.
Whatever the case, I told my friend that he should now count me as another fan of Shiv Kumar Batalvi.
all photos courtesy flickr.com unless otherwise stated.