HE was barely in his mid-thirties, but the end was nigh for Shiv Kumar Batalvi. For quite some time, his friends had been noticing that his otherwise fair skin was growing darker by the day. Excessive drinking had finally taken its toll. It was a sad end to a poet who, according to Amrita Pritam, was the 'darling' poet of Punjab.
Shiv Kumar Batalvi, the poet who literally dominated poetic gatherings in his short life, was born in Bara Pind Lohtian, (now in Pakistan). There is some confusion about the date of birth. While some scholars believe that he was born on July 23, 1936, others say that he was born on October 8, 1937. His parents, Pandit Kishan Gopal and mother Shanti Devi had to leave their village after Partition. The family chose to make Batala their new home, and Pandit Kishan Gopal continued to make a living as a patwari.
Shiv Batalvi did his Matriculation in 1953, and tried to do FSc from Baring Christian Union, Batala, but he failed to pass the examination. The young man was more interested in softer emotions than the composition of hydrogen or the laws of gravity. He would spend all his time with his friends. Somewhere along the line, he met Barkat Ram Yuman, and became his disciple. Pandit Kishan Gopal was very unhappy with his wayward son. Using his own influence, he somehow got Shiv a job as patwari. But if he hoped that the job might bring about a change in the errant son, he was mistaken. Shiv continued to let his heart rule his mind, and lived for a while in Qadian before finally moving to Chandigarh in the late 60s.
As his popularity grew in private mehfils, he saw the publication of his first book, Peerhan da Praaga, in 1960. It became an instant success, assuring Shiv Batalvi a permanent place among the great Punjabi poets. When the readers demanded more, the poet obliged them with a string of highly acclaimed books: Lajwanti, Aate diyan Chiriyaan, Mainu Vida karo, Birha tu Sultan, Dardmandaan diyan Aahaan, and his epic masterpiece Loona. The last mentioned book took him to the pinnacle of glory, and finally crowning him with the Sahitya Akademi Award.
After coming to Chandigarh, he joined the State Bank of India, Sector 17 as a PRO. Since he hardly showed any interest in office work, he was made librarian. The booths opposite the Kiran Cinema were his favourite haunt, and he could be seen with his friends there every evening after a 'hard day' at the Bank.
Shiv used to recite his poems in tarannum, and those who have been fortunate enough to have heard him say that although many great professional singers have rendered Shiv Batalvi's songs, none of them bettered the poet's own style of recitation.
Writer Mohan Bhandari, one of Shiv Batalvi's closest friends believes that as a lyrical poet, Shiv Kumar Batalvi has no equal in Punjabi literature. There was something extraordinary about his diction, his metaphors, his imagery, that he could paint a verbal picture of whatever he was writing about — a picture so vivid and real that people have his poems on their lips; no other poet can boast of such popularity. He was a hot favourite at Kavi Sammelans.