Can a subtle sense of preaching imbued with captivating imagery and ironical vocabulary produce unpretentious and witty meditations on the day to day trials and tribulations? Can this poetry, going beyond the unrequited love and longing and betraying the spectrum of feeling, cast a spell on an overly sensitive new generation accustomed to entitled living? The answer is a definite yes, and it comprises the essence of stimulating poetry of Kaifi Azmi. It is astutely showcased by an anthology of his poems published by Bloomsbury recently.
The anthology, “Kaifi Azmi: Poems/Nazms” is astutely edited and insightfully translated by noted poet Sudeep Sen with equally distinguished translators, Hussain Mir Ali, Baidar Bakht, Sumitra Ghoshal and Pritish Nandy. To mark the 100th birth centenary celebration, Sudeep Sen explores Kaifi Azmi’s sublime, evocative and poignant portrayal of emotional and social web of human relationship and the meticulously selected 50 representative poems that denote the new dimension of creative profligacy.
Sudeep does well to publish a discerning selection from his half-a-dozen poetry collection. The anthology comprises impeccable translations of a poet whose poems remain alive decades after they appeared. Kaifi was instrumental in bringing the progressive waves to Urdu poetry that was riveted by profound romantic melancholia, concealed lament and being at peace with anguish. Kaifi’s creative dexterity transforms gullible inwardness and unfulfilled desires into buoyant enthusiasm that does not diminish with time.
Mapping the artistic terrain of Kaifi, Sudeep asserts with critical acuity: “At the surface, Kaifi Azmi's poetry appears political and familial. His subject matter spans the ideas of nation, state, history as well as themes of love, longing, despair, hope and more. All these are reflected in his large oeuvre of creative work – and his poetry's canvass. The accretive quality of life's wisdom is distilled in a form that is not only honest but also highly oratorical.” Certainly, Sudeep has a point here, but it is also true that Kaifi's poems having political overtones couched in the rumbling style hardly generate any artistic euphoria and become listless and frivolous.
Kaifi invests deeply felt individual experiences with fervent ebullience and his widely quoted poem "One Moment" is piercingly eloquent: What we call life, is just a few moments / and within that one moment /when a pair of expressive eyes / look up from a teacup / and drown in the heart / drowning, say / today, I will keep mine. Let us just sit /hand in hand/ with our mutual gift of grief,/ with our shared heat of emotions /Who knows in this moment /on some distant mountain /the snow might start to melt. (translator Sudeep Sen)
Lord Ram is held in high esteem in Urdu poetry, and several poets including Iqbal have made him the object of abiding reverence, and Iqbal described him as the Imam ul Hind (the revered leader of India). Kaifi zeroes in the values that Ram represent, and it has nothing to do with the communal frenzy that gained currency recently. Husain Mir Ali skilfully renders his famous poem "The second Exile" into English; "They, who had come to my home in order to burn it/I know your daggers were vegetarian, my friend. And that you had thrown your stones only towards Babur / it is the fault of my own head that it got bloodied/ Ram had not even washed his feet in the Sarju river yet/ when he noticed the deep stains of blood/Getting up from the river's edge without washing his feet / Ram took leave of his home saying: “The atmosphere of my capital does not agree with me”
Kaifi's poems on the externalities of life do manifest a remarkable range of reference in a vibrant and fresh vocabulary, and it is what his poem on the split of the Communist part of India betrays. A reputed translator, Baidar Bakht, brilliantly translated his poem, “Wandering prostrations”. “After my feet were broken on the way, I discovered that my leader is no one except myself. Gods keep coming one after another; Frustrated wisdom said in the end; there is no God.”
Sudeep selected nine older translations done by Pritish Nandy, another distinguished poet and translator, and Sumitra Ghosal has perceptively translated nine poems of Kaifi.
The selection of poems and incredible translations, select bibliography and archival photo album make it a compelling read. It also carries transliteration in Hindi.