THE year 1898 saw the publication of Bhai Vir Singhs novel Sundari, a landmark in modern Punjabi literature. Some critics went so far as to call it the first novel of the Punjabi language. The plot dealt with the trials and travails of a small Sikh community during the Mughal Empire in the 18th century. This immensely popular novel ran into 35 editions, and was followed by Bijay Singh and Satwant Kaur, both novels. Then came Rana Surat Singh, often described as an epic poem. In this book, the poet paints a poignant picture of the lonesome life of a widowed queen, Raj Kaur. It has more than 1200 lines of some of the best poetry written in Punjabi. With this volume, Bhai Vir Singh began to write verse more regularly, ending up with an output of more than 500 poems. He also wrote three excellent biographies: Sri Kalgidhar Chamatkar (1925), Sri Guru Nanak Chamatkar (1928), and Asht Gur Chamatkar (1951). He wrote only one play, Raja Lokhdata Singh, and did not write any novels after 1907. But he continued to write poetry and scholarly work.
Bhai Vir Singh was born into a family of scholars, and he grew up in the holy city of Amritsar. He finished his Matriculation winning the district boards gold medal. When he was still at school, he was married to Bibi Chattar Kaur.
Considered to be the harbinger of modern Punjabi literature, Bhai Vir Singh wrote prose, novels, poems, plays and historical research. He also started publishing Khalsa Samachar, the first Punjabi daily. Through the pages of Khalsa Samachar, he tried to bring about social and religious reform such as importance of education, equal rights to women, abolition of the caste system, and so on. He established the Khalsa College in Amritsar, and with the help of Wazir Singh, he set up a lithographic press in Amritsar in 1892. The following year he started the Khalsa Tract Society with a view to serving the country and the Khalsa Panth. He was a great scholar not only of Sikhism but also of Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam.
Bhai Vir Singh also edited and published Prachin Panth Prakash and Janamsakhi, the life-story of Guru Nanak Dev. He organised the Chief Khalsa Diwan, a representative body of the Sikhs for bringing about religious and social reforms. SInce very few cared to get themselves educated during his day, he formed the Sikh Educational Committee for spreading of education.
"For understanding different religions," he used to say, "the emphasis is not so much on points of similarity as on uniqueness. There are many things common between a cow and a buffalo; but the cow and the buffalo are not the same."
Bhai Vir Singh inspired novelists like Nanak Singh, Bhai Mohan Singh Vaid, Charan Singh Shahid, Master Tara Singh, and Gurbakhsh Singh.
Panjab University conferred on him a doctorate in Oriental Learning, and the Sahitya Akademi awarded him its first annual award for outstanding contribution to Punjabi literature. He was also awarded the Padma Bhushan. He was nominated member of the Punjab Legislative Council in 1952.
"Bhai Vir Singh is
one of those representative Indians," Dr
Radhakrishnan said while evaluating the great poets
contribution to Indian literature, "deriving
inspiration from the classical wisdom of our land and
living it before our eyes."
DHUNDIRAJ GOVIND PHALKE came to films through a long circuitous path. Having studied art at J. J. School of art in 1885, and later at Kala Bhavana, Baroda, he devoted his time mainly to painting landscapes. In due course, architecture began to interest him, and before long he was learning photography. Not satisfied yet, he also learnt three-colour blockmaking, photolithography and ceramics.
Dadasaheb Phalke, as he is affectionately
called, was born in Trymbalkeshwar, Nasik. His father was
an accomplished Sanskrit scholar. Phalke started his
professional career as portrait photographer, went on to
do stage makeup, and even assisted a German illusionist.
An incurable drifter, he then started Phalkes Art
Printing & Engraving Works at Lonavala in 1908, and
later Laxmi Art Printing where he made photolitho
transfers of Ravi Varmas oleographs. He, then, went
to Germany to buy three-colour printing machines, and it
appeared as if he had finally found his vocation in life.
But that was not to be, for around 1910 he chanced upon
to see the film The Life of Christ. The film made
such an impact on his mind that he began to wonder if
such films could be made in India with Indian themes.
What began as an idle curiosity soon became an obsession,
and he raised money and experimented with a few short
films. Encouraged by what he made, he went to London in
February 1912 to learn the art and craft of film-making.
It was Cecil Hepworth of Walton Studios who trained him
in the craft of film-making. Phalke bought a Willamson
camera and returned India to set up Phalke Films on Dadar
Main Road in Bombay. The money for this venture came from
a loan against his insurance policy. His wife, Saraswati
Phalke was an active partner in the venture. She not only
managed the Studio but also looked after the technical
aspects of film-making. Under this banner he made five
films, beginning with Raja Harishchandra in 1913
The Company later moved to Nasik. He went to England
again in 1914 to organise trade shows. He even had offers
to stay on, but returned to India after buying the latest
equipment. On his return he closed Phalke Films and
established the Hindustan Cinema Films in 1918, and under
this banner he made about 44 silent films, and one talkie
titled Gangavataran. Phalke is generally credited
with ushering in the motion pictures in India with the
prodution of Raja Harishchandra.
Shiv Kumar Batalvi
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. As friends and relatives watched in silence, fearing for the worst, the poets words rang in their ears: Jadon meri arthi utha key chalan gey . . . 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 Batalvis songs, none of them bettered the poets own style of recitation.
Writer Mohan Bhandari, one of Shiv Batalvis 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.
Reminiscing about old times, Bhandari continues: "Shiv used to often say that he was going to die soon . . . . Asaan taan joban rutey marna . . . . Kabraan udeekadiyan . . . . and so on. We never took him seriously, because we used to think that he was joking. And when I heard that he was gone, I couldnt believe it. I took a rickshaw and went to the Sector 22 market, in the hope that the news was nothing but a hoax, and that I would find him sitting there in one of the shops. I waited in vain for hours for that most colourful of our poets to turn up. I could never really get over his death. Even after so many years, I feel that he might just walk in any moment wearing his motia kameez and white pajaamas and Peshawari chappals."
(To be concluded)