Kaifi Azmi was a romantic, revolutionary, contrarian and rebel. Azmi was initially educated in Islamic seminaries, became a celebrated poet-lyricist in the Hindi film industry and eventually became a true adherent of Marxism, dedicating his life to the service of the Communist Party of India.
Mumbai: It is the year of Kaifi Azmi. His birth centenary was celebrated earlier this year and today is his 17th death anniversary.
He was a gifted poet and lyricist. His first film as a lyricist in Hindi cinema was Buzdil followed by Kaagaz Ke Phool, Anupama, Hanste Zakhm and Arth. Azmi is also remembered for his screenplay - dialogues in M S Sathyu’s Garam Hawa and Chetan Anand’s Heer Ranjha in verse.
The celebrated poet-lyricist, who passed away on May 10, 2002, due to a prolonged illness, gave Bollywood some of its most stunning classics, tapping his Urdu prowess to celebrate emotions as diverse as romantic love and patriotism. ‘Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam‘ (Kaagaz ke Phool, 1959) to ‘Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho‘ (Arth, 1983), are some of his most celebrated works.
In 1975, he won the National Award and Filmfare Award for screenplay and dialogues in M.S. Sathyu’s Garm Hava.
Born Athar Husain Rizvi on January 14, 1919, in Mijwan, near Azamgarh, present-day UP, to a zamindar family, Azmi wrote his first ghazal when he was 11 years old:
“Itna to zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade
Hansne sey ho sukoon na roney sey kal pade
Jis tarah hans raha hoon main pii pii ke ashk-e-gham
Yun doosra hanse to kaleja nikal pade”
It was later sung by legendary ghazal singer Begum Akhtar.
Azmi was initially educated in Islamic seminaries, but eventually became a true adherent of Marxism, dedicating his life to the service of the Communist Party of India. He joined the Communist Party at 19 and turned columnist for Qaumi Jung when he shifted from Azamgarh to Mumbai. He wrote Aavara Sajde (Vagabond Obeisances) when the CPI and CPM split in the 1960s.
He was married to actor Shaukat Azmi and had two children, actor Shabana Azmi and cinematographer Baba Azmi.
In the last 20 years of his life, he returned to his home in Mijwan and transformed it into a model village. In recognition of his efforts, the UP government named the road leading to Mijwan, as well as the Sultanpur-Phulpur highway after him. A train from Delhi to Azamgarh is also named after him, the Kaifiyaat Express.
In 1993, he set up Mijwan Welfare Society for the girl child and women in rural India, and made education and skill training its fulcrum. Namrata Joshi wrote for The Hindu that Kaifi had once told his son in passing that it would be nice if a film were made in his birthplace, Mijwan. “This week, Baba begins shooting Mee Raqsam (I Want To Dance), the story of a father and daughter, in the U.P. village. It stars Aditi Sharma, a 14-year-old Mijwan resident, in the lead and is expected to be ready for release by the year end, in a fitting finale to the Kaifi year,” she wrote.
“An interesting story about my father: He was always different. His mother used to recall that, in spite of being born to a zamindar family in the village of Mijwan in Eastern UP, Athar (he took on the pseudonym Kaifi much later) would refuse to wear new clothes on Eid because the kisan’s children who tilled their land could not afford to do so. His father Fateh Hussain was very fond of Urdu poetry and his two elder brothers also wrote poetry,” Shabana Azmi, the celebrated actress wrote for The Print.
“He was sent to the Sultanul Madaris in Lucknow for religious learning. Within weeks, he formed a union and rallied the students to go on strike against the institution. He was thrown out,” she wrote.
“From there, he went on to Kanpur and started working with factory workers, took on the pseudonym Kaifi, and began writing revolutionary poetry. This caught the attention of Communist leader Sajjad Zaheer, and he was invited to Bombay to write for the paper Qaumi Jung. He joined the Communist Party formally and found the path on which he was to traverse the rest of his life,” she added.
He joined the Progressive Writers Association in 1936 where he wrote about social justice, communal harmony, gender justice, and the plight of farmers. Along with other writers of the Progressive Writers Association, he believed in using writing as an instrument for social change, she wrote.
“Remembering her growing up years in the Red Flag Hall in Mumbai, Shabana says her father, born in ‘ghulam’ India, was confident he would die in socialist India. But the violence in independent India shook him. She describes how shattered he was by the Gujarat carnage in 2002. “I would watch him as he looked at the television coverage, face frozen in pain. But, he would say that the common man craves roti, kapda aur makaan, irrespective of the faith he follows, and that this madness will pass,” The Indian Express reported.
The report added that a decade ago, it was the sadness at the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, that had made him write his seminal poem, Doosra Banbas. He wrote: …Paanv Sarju mein abhi Ram ne dhoe bhi na the/Ki nazar aae wahan khoon ke gahre dhabbe/Paanv dhoe bina Sarju ke kinare se uthe/Ram ye kehte hue apne dware se uthe/Rajdhani ki faza aai nahin raas mujhe/Chhe December ko mila doosra banbas mujhe (Ram had not even washed his feet in the Saryu river/When he spotted blots of blood/He got up saying/The capital’s ambience doesn’t appeal to me/I was exiled a second time on 6th December). Kaifi also played a role in Saeed Mirza’s Naseem in 1995, a poignant film on the fissures that surfaced in India after 1992.
Kaifi Azmi was a romantic, revolutionary, contrarian and rebel. The report added, “a poet who often brought together disparate themes in his works, Kaifi, who died in May 2002, is best summed up in a tribute by his son-in-law and and poet Javed Akhtar. In his poem Ajeeb Aadmi Tha Woh, a tribute to Kaifi, he writes: Woh aankhein jinmein hai sakat/Woh hont jin pe lafz hain/Rahunga inke darmiyaan/Ki jab main beet jaaunga/Ajeeb aadmi tha woh (The eyes that have power and strength/And the lips that have the words/I will remain, between the two/ Even when I shall pass/What a strange man he was).”