Today, his poetry stands in equal footing, amongst that by stalwarts of modern Punjabi poetry, like Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam, all of whom are popular on both sides of India-Pakistan border. In , when he was just 11, his family moved to Batala Gurdaspur district after partition of India, where his father continued his work as a patwari and young Shiv received his primary education. Allegedly, he was a dreamy child, often vanishing for the duration of the day, to be found lying under trees by the riverbank close to the Mandir or Hindu temple outside the village, lost in a brown reverie. Education He completed his matriculation in , from Punjab University, and enrolled in the F.
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The person in the photo is a migrant worker, now gone missing. Somewhere far away, a man — maybe this man — says he has no motivation to work. Does he want to return? That, too, is a meditation — if you will — on separation and loss. What keeps drawing you back to this subject? I feel it is necessary to register the memory of that which is missing, the inevitability of death and coming to terms with impermanence.
Missing Days is a continuation of Birha, meditating on the idea of the missing person — the son, the lover, or the husband who leaves for a city to work — and the landscapes that embody the missing. When did you first encounter this poetry and why does it speak to you so?
Each of his poems was like a visual essay, filled with rich metaphors and fragile emotions. I tried to capture the essence of this journey of silence on accepting alienation and separation from the world at large. It is not a literal expression but a poetic take on workers and their families across the country dreaming, leaving, disappearing, wailing, waiting. Can you talk about what kind of research goes into a film like this?
Research in my view is spending deep time where there is no set deadline, or a set agenda with which one encounters people. Gumnaam Din is a continuation of Behind the Tin Sheets, my film project around the migrant workers building the Bengaluru metro.
After making three films, I set out to meet some of the workers who had become close friends and told me I could go meet their families. I travelled for over two years — to Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Hyderabad and Jharkhand — meeting workers and their families before I arrived at the idea of such a film. One thing led to another, but there were so many variables involved. This is Bihar. Gumnaam Din is not a journalistic account of the missing man. It is about the missing days.
It is about the ethos around the missing, to bring the viewer closer to the experience of loss. How does one account for missing? And how does it affect people over a period of time?
Does one ever accept the fact that someone has gone missing or do they just wait for them, subconsciously? When a man leaves to find work in the city, he never returns as the same man, said a woman I met in Bihar. Some things cannot be put in words.
That is birha. A migrant worker leaves no footprints. People are here today, gone tomorrow. I wondered if missing people hide in the mist, do they all gravitate to a remote poplar forest?
Do they stay inside trees? These ponderings are reflected in the imagery in my film. I imagined several visual sequences as responses to a person who will never return. Do you want to talk about this image, which is seen quite a bit?
When you see the woman dressing up before the mirror, it does not reveal who she is getting ready for. This is left open for speculation. She is a woman who is waiting. She does not say a word. She gets dressed. She does not express what she is feeling. She is ever present. She is not just the wife of the missing man. She is a woman who lives on her own terms.
She is beautiful. This is not just after marriage. It carries on throughout her life. When I asked someone what that sound was, they led me to a door, where the sound got clearer and clearer, and I saw a mother and daughter in tight embrace, wailing away non-stop till they felt relieved of some of the pain they were holding on to.
When we were designing the sound, I wanted to recreate that experience, except that I wanted to inscribe their wails into their surroundings, in order to create a haunting presence of them within the silence of the winter landscape.
Yes, so that his presence is always sensed, like that of a ghost. His absence must disturb us. His disappearance must unsettle us. The most directly emotional part of the film is when we hear such a man read out his own missing-person ad. This seems to me an interesting fictional device. The film is attentive to the poem Gumnaam Din. I did not want to use any lines from the poem in the film.
Instead, I wanted to stay true to my conversations and experiences of meeting and searching for the workers. The impossibility of not finding some of them made me want to surrender to the fictional. This desperate need to find him is probably my voice. I am not sure it is his.
So I let our quests meet — of him wanting to be missing endlessly and me wanting to find him. This impossibility comes out clearly when he reaches out to the world.
To me, it is more mysterious than concrete, and it puts the onus on the viewer to look for him. Yes, even my blood is sorrowful now. Yes, even my flesh is sorrowful now. There was a journey… there was sand, there was silence there was humiliation, there was dread, there was disgrace there was emptiness, there was horizon, there was the sun or there was nothing but the trail of my footprints.
Seeing all of this, a mind can only grow cold. A life that traversed the hot desert of age carrying the burden of sorrow and yearned for a sip of shade. But in my sight, there was not even an trace of a tree I cry a lot.
Ishtehaar - Poem by Shiv Kumar Batalvi
Yet, a reliable and coherent study of his life has not come to light. The authors have identified the main reason behind the extraordinary popularity of Shiv as his exceptional capability to embody the collective psyche of Punjabis and their traditional cultural identity in his poetry. By living a brief and intense life that was devoted to writing deeply profound, passionate and enchantingly lyrical poetic expressions of the pathos of his time, and dying young at the age of 36, a fate that he had predicted and romanticized throughout his poetry, he attained the charisma of a modern day saint and a fallen-hero in the eyes of many of his admirers. The sixties was primarily a phenomenon of western societies but its resonance had also touched the literature and art in the third world and had produced new trends in all forms of creative expressions. It was perhaps not a coincidence that Shiv Kumar Batalvi came to age and quickly gained prominence at this crucial juncture when the emerging era of modernity was decisively and permanently replacing the traditional way of writing Punjabi poetry. It was the most opportune time for talented poets to get attention and fame at a young age as the authentic voices of the new times. He evoked, and still continues to do so, strong emotions among the listeners and readers of his poetry.
Luna English , tr. Gupal Puri and Mrs. Kailash Puri. He had been looking forward to his first trip abroad as a welcome relief from the drudgery of his life in Chandigarh.
Shiv Kumar Batalvi