Thursday, August 05, 2010

How to Gender a Hawk ("Shikkra"): a look at a Shiv Kumar Batalvi poem

I came across a link to the Punjabi poet Shiv Kumar Batalvi on YouTube earlier today, in the course of doing some research for an encyclopedia entry I'm working on. It's Shiv Kumar himself, probably sometime in the early 1970s. Shiv Kumar in person is every bit as magnetic and mannered as you might expect.



After I shared the link on Twitter, Sepoy of Chapati Mystery sent me a link to a Shiv Kumar poem he liked, which then led me to yet another Shiv Kumar poem here, as sung by Jagjit Singh:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-I2UiLbczQ

Here it is in transliterated Punjabi (forgive any errors; I'm doing this partly by ear):

Maye ni Main ik shikkra yaar banaya
Ohde sir te kalgi
Te perin jhanjar
Oh chogg chuginda aayea
Ik oh de roop di dhoop thikeree
Oh duja mekhan tirhaya
Teeja oh da rang gulabi
oh kise gori maa da jaaya

Ishq da ik palang navare
be aisa chandni vichdaya
dhan di chatt ho gai maili
us pair chappal ke paaya

Dukhan mere Naina De Koye,
Te vich Harh Hanjua Da Aya,
Sari Raat Gayi vich Socha,
Us Aye Ki zulm Kamaya,
Subha Savere Layni Vatna,
We Asa Mal Mal os Navaya,
Dehi De vich Niklan Chinga,
Ni Sada Haath Gaya Kumlaya,
Churi Kuta Ta O Khanda Nahi,
Weh Asa Dil Da Maas Khawaya,
Ek Udari Aisi Mari, -2
O Mud Vatni Na Aya,
O Maye Nee, Main Ek Shikra Yaar Banaya


And here is how one person translated the poem in English:

Mother! Mother!
I befriended a hawk.
A plume on his head
Bells on his feet,
He came pecking for grain.
I was enamored!

His beauty
Was sharp as sunlight.
He was thirsty for perfumes.
His color was the color of a rose,
The son of a fair mother.
I was enamored!

His eyes,
Were an evening in springtime.
His hair, a dark cloud.
His lips,
A rising autumn dawn.
I was enamored!

His breath
Was filled with flowers,
Like a sandalwood garden.
Spring danced thru his body
So bathed was it in fragrances.
I was enamored!.

In his words
Blew the eastern breeze,
Like the sound of a blackbird.
His smile was the whiteness of a crane in the rice fields,
Taking flight at the clap of a hand.
I was enamored!.

I laid
A bed of love
In the moonlight.
My body-sheet was stained
The instant he laid his foot on my bed.
I was enamored!

The corners of my eyes,
Hurt.
A flood of tears engulfed me.
All night long I tried to fathom
How he did this to me.
I was enamored!

Early in the morning
I scrubbed and bathed my body
With vaTana.
But embers kept bursting out,
And my hands flagged.
I was enamored!

I crushed choori,
He would not eat it.
So I fed him the flesh of my heart.
He took flight, such a flight did he take,
That he never returned.
I was enamored!

Mother! Mother!
I befriended a hawk.
A plume on his head
Bells on his feet,
He came pecking for grain.
I was enamored!


What struck me at first, reading that, was the surprise at what seemed to be a celebration of male beauty. His beauty, his eyes, his body... um, is there something about Shiv Kumar we should know?

Another interesting thought from my wife, who noticed that "Jhanjar" would be the anklets that might be worn by a woman, while a "kalgi" would generally be an adornment for a man (as in, ornamentation on a turban). The fact that these two images are juxtaposed does seem to support the idea of a kind of ambiguously gendered love-object.

Actually, the gendering of the word "hawk" ("shikkra") is male in Punjabi, but it's probably a mistake to read too much into that accident. The literary critic Manjit Singh, in "Glimpses of Punjabi Poetry," suggests that the inspiration for the poem (one of Shiv Kumar's earlier works) was a woman who betrayed him:

Another source of inspiration for his poetry was Anushia, who came in his life and promised him life-long companionship. Now Shiv felt somewhat comforted but when she left for abroad without any intimation, he could not bear the loss a second time and sent messages to her to return but she did not come. Shiv likened here to the bird 'Shikkra'... (Manjit Singh, "Glimpses of Modern Punjabi Literature", 1994)


Ok, so maybe this poem isn't what the English translation might make it seem like it is. It's still interesting to me that he chose a metaphor that is so strongly masculine for this poem of longing, loss, and betrayal.

Incidentally, if anyone reading this wants to correct either the transliteration or the translation (which is not my own), I'd be grateful.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Ive seen that interview before and I couldn't help but notice that he came off as very melancholic in that interview. I was interested in knowing how he passed away and was sad to learn that he passed away due to of liver cirrhosis as a result of chronic alcoholism and that to at an early age of 37. RIP

Nancy said...

I hadn't heard of Batalvi before (& don't know Punjabi) -- article, poem & interview were fascinating, and made me want to know more. It seems clear that he was drunk during the interview -- though it didn't prevent him from singing beautifully.

Amardeep said...

The first time I watched it I thought he was fine -- just a little eccentric and 'mannered.' But my wife said the same thing (he looks drunk), and now I see it too.

Anonymous said...

I think we are being too hasty. The times we live in force us to be so. I think a man can admire another without secretly sweating briefly in a room.

Loved the poem. Thanks.

- AR

deepstarr3000 said...

Amardeep, Wouldn't a well kept royal hawk (used for hunting) have bells on its feet? Nothing gender-ambiguous about it. Shiv completes his metaphors. He swims in them. He lives in them. They tell us about a world that no longer is.

Secondly, you don't transliterate the "main vari jan" refrain. Not only WAS I enamored, I continue to be enamored by his memory. Thats the double pain of birha.

Long time lurker, first time poster: Rahuldeep Singh Gill, California Lutheran University

Anil Gupta said...

There is lot of contradictions in this world. One is definition of who is drunk.
One who has consumed alcohol and is speaking like both an intellectual and from his heart to communicate with the rest at their level,
or
many of us who remain drunk with our status, mannerism, farcical thoughts, made up looks, psuedo intellectual expressions incommunicado.

sbg said...

Though i havent heard of him before , but i feel that he is more a Philosopher , rather than a poet., his philosophy of LIFE , referring it as a slow suicide 'for the Intellectuals ' , though seems to be pessimist , but.......Hahh.........like it or not , its what we do