Kaifi Azmi, whose 12th death anniversary falls this Saturday, lived his life as per his verse.
Great authors have immense compassion in their hearts, sometimes far more than what they share or reveal through their writings. Even in severe adversity, they never turn bitter, instead exhibit a profound capacity to understand ‘conflicts’ which help lay bare eternal truths of love, life and laughter with sublime clarity.
Hindi films too have been blessed with several outstanding poets like Sahir Ludhianvi, Shailendra and Kaifi Azmi who not only rendered universal truths in magnificent poetry but also dissected myriad emotions with great empathy. What is highly commendable is that even within the limitations of time and musical structure of a film song, they always provided spiritual, social or cathartic insights into ordinary and individual moments, inspiring generations. Divinely ordained to write, these writers were fine human beings who never compromised with their muse and never wrote a crass line on any occasion.
The last but certainly not the least of the trio was a man who lived his life as per his verse. Whether Kaifi Azmi lived what he wrote or wrote what he lived is difficult to tell but there never was a false note in his life and verse. Believing the world he had inherited must be improved to make the impoverished feel better, his poetry, like his life, was devoid of hypocrisy and instead sparkled with spontaneity, truth and integrity. Free from dogmas of caste, community and religion, Kaifi was an institution in himself who pursued the ideals of Progressive Socialism in all his endeavours.
While Kaifi’s songs are well known amongst the masses, it isn’t apparent that from an early age, he suffered incalculable anguish seeing the bestiality of the system. Though he did rap hard on its knuckles, he was never brash or indecent in his outpourings. Even though his pen bled for the rights of the downtrodden and his eyes went moist for the have-nots, his tongue lashings against the indignities of society were like a teacher admonishing a faltering pupil so as to find the right path in future! No wonder, despite being a zamindar (aristocratic community of landlords), the sensitive poet gave up all to join the Quit India movement in 1942 at a young age; the spirit of the movement motivating him into becoming a universal citizen who always yearned to bring a qualitative change in his environs.
His Communist leanings made him fight injustice at every stage. Kaifi was a liberal who not only believed in women empowerment but also practiced it. His wife Shaukat was a well known actress. Kaifi never restrained her from exhibiting her talent and became her strongest supporter and admirer. Even when he had been incapacitated by paralysis in his later years, he initiated the Mijwan Welfare Society (MWS) in Azamgarh (U.P.) — his birth place, since he felt a nation’s economic progress was meaningless if rural India couldn’t benefit from it. Today, the same village, where most women were doomed to wed before teens as well as to lifelong penury, has bloomed beyond recognition. Besides education, young women have been engaged in vocations and skills, earning international recognition as well as financial freedom.
Kaifi’s daughter Shabana Azmi confides that MWS is a symbol of Kaifi’s enormous faith in his ideals. Infuriated by her father’s multifarious social initiatives that drained his energies and resources, she questioned his working against odds but was astounded by his reply that “one must work relentlessly for a vision to become a reality, irrespective of whether the efforts fructify in your lifetime”. He felt if the vision was noble, people would carry the momentum forward and make it a reality. Anyone wonder why Kaifi wrote “Ab Tumhaare Hawaale Watan Saathiyon” (“Haqeeqat”) and why it is the ultimate expression of faith, valour and patriotism for past five decades?
Only an exceptional poet like Kaifi could write “Zinda Rahne Ke Mausam Bahut Hain Abhi, Jaan Dene Ki Rut Roz Aati Nahin” (To live there are seasons galore, but a season to die comes once) to stir a nation, alongside a complete romantic film like “Heer Ranjha” in verse. The beauty of his poetry is that he gives form to feelings that most people are unable to express, establishing an instant and everlasting connect with the poet. You’d never find anyone who hasn’t been moved by “Main Ye Soch Kar Uske Dar Se Utha Tha” (“Haqeeqat”), “Waqt Ne Kiya” (“Kaagaz Ke Phool”), “Tum Itna Jo Muskura Rahe Ho” (“Arth”), “Tumahari Zulf Ke Saye Mein Shaam Kar Loonga” (“Naunihaal”), “Jaane Kya Dhoondti Rahti Hain Ye Aankhen Mujh Mein” (“Shola Aur Shabnam”) and several hundred other songs that have become part of folklore.
Music director Kuldeep Singh too believes Kaifi’s oeuvre of poetry was a cry for change. Kuldeep has vivid memories of the soft spoken but firm secularist who “had child-like enthusiasm for Holi, Id and Diwali festivals alike.” That is why perhaps one feels only a humanist like Kaifi Azmi could understand our anguish and utter “Dekhi Zamane Ki Yari, Bichde Sabhi Bari Bari” on behalf of all of us.