Shaukat Kaifi: For an equal stage

Made for each other: Shaukat Kaifi with Kaifi Azmi

Made for each other: Shaukat Kaifi with Kaifi Azmi  


Remembering Shaukat Kaifi and her times through passages from her memoir that describe her love for Kaifi Azmi and the progressive theatre movement

An era of struggle, theatre, and rebellion has come to an end with the death of Shaukat Kaifi who died in Mumbai at the age of 93. It is difficult to perceive the struggle and sacrifice that the Hyderabadi girl, hailing from an extremely orthodox family, would have had to make for her love, values, and ideology.

Shaukat wrote in her autobiography, “Yaad ki Rehguzar” (translated into English as “Kaifi & I” with some changes), which reads like a romantic novel, that her love story began in February 1947 when many progressive poets reached Hyderabad to participate in a conference of Progressive Writers' Association and were put up at the residence of Shaukat’s brother-in-law. Shaukat was mesmerised by the humility of all these famous poets.

In the evening when Kaifi (Azmi) recited his iconic poem ‘Aurat’ (Woman):

Jis mein jalta hoon usi aag mein jalna hai tujhey,

Uth meri jaan merey saath hi chalna hai tujhey...

(You have to burn in the same fire in which I burn

Get up my darling, you have to go with me...)

Shaukat felt that Kaifi had composed the poem with her in mind. She felt that a man who ensures respect for women would be the appropriate soul mate for her. It was love at first sight. After the mushaira, the youngsters started taking the autographs of the famous poets. Shaukat first took the autograph of Sardar Jafri, who enjoyed the reputation of a revolutionary hero.

When she went to Kaifi to take his autograph, Kaifi signed with two lines in gibberish. When Shaukat asked Kaifi why he had written that absurd couplet in her diary, Kaifi flashed a naughty smile and responded that it was because she had approached Sardar Jafri for the autograph first.

Shaukat’s elder sister teased Kaifi by asking him to congratulate Shaukat on her upcoming nuptials with her first cousin. Shaukat writes that on hearing this, Kaifi’s face turned pale. Kaifi’s marriage was also in the offing. Kaifi teased Shaukat that she would forget him after marriage and turned serious and said that he was never going to marry. According to Shaukat’s account, neither of them could sleep that night.

Next day, Kaifi dedicated a poem to her ‘Tum’ (You), in which he anthropomorphised love

Jisey na boojh saka ishq, wo paheli ho,

jisey samajh na saka pyar bhi, wo pyar ho tum.

(You are riddle that devotion could not decode,

you are the love that even love could not understand.)

Smelling the rat, her mother kept vigil and they were not allowed to see each other. The very next day, Kaifi left for Bombay with a heavy heart. On hearing the news of Kaifi’s departure, Shaukat was almost maddened with grief and rushed to the room where she had found a poem, ‘Shaukat’. Shaukat began writing a letter immediately.

‘Kaifi, I love you beyond compare, nobody in this world, the mountains, the rivers, the people, the sky, the angels, or even God can change it…yours and only yours, Shaukat’. In reply, Kaifi wrote a letter with his blood,

21 March. Night,

…Shaukat, How can I make you trust in my everlasting love? Tears were streaming from my eyes uncontrollably. In my misery, the only idea that struck me was to slit my wrist with a blade and write this letter with my blood. Till now I was only shedding my tears in your love...let’s see what happens ahead now that I have shed blood…

The letter completely captivated Shaukat and she shared with his loving father, who warned her of the perils of believing ‘these Urdu poets.’ One couldn’t trust the letter not have been written with a sheep’s blood! Interestingly, years later, Shaukat gave her daughter Shabana the same advice about not trusting the poet Javed Akhtar, who had sent the entire shop of flowers to woo Shabana. After much persuasion, Shaukat’s father agreed to take her to Bombay without telling anybody else in the family.

Everybody received her and her father with open arms and the wedding was finalised without delay. B T Randive offered a hundred rupees on behalf of the Communist Party of India (CPI) on the condition that this ‘Laila-Majnu drama shouldn’t end within months so that the Party didn’t have to bear the loss of hundred rupees.’

First night

Shaukat Kaifi: For an equal stage

Kaifi was a Shia and Shaukat, a Sunni, hence the nikah required two Qazis, one of each faith. Due to the financial compulsions, only one maulvi could be arranged to perform the ceremony, and Kaifi had to mention his religion as Sunni Muslim.

They celebrated their first night in a disorganised room on the broken cot surrounded by only books and newspapers. Those days Kaifi was receiving fifty rupees from the CPI.

Once, when Kaifi took Shaukat to watch a movie, they had to spend all their meagre savings of two and a half rupees and had to buy a glass of water only on the promise that she would come back and pay later!

Shaukat writes when she was in the family way, the Party asked her to get an abortion done. Shaukat kept fighting and won, and was ‘allowed’ to give birth to Shabana. Ultimately things were settled, Shaukat got a job in Prithvi Theatre and Kaifi started writing lyrics for films.

Natural flair

Shaukat acted in many dramas and established herself as a seasoned actor. Interestingly, after every show, Prithvi Raj Kapoor would stand at the door with a pouch of sackcloth and the viewers would drop money in it. Later, all the money was distributed among the actors. Sanjiv Kumar played Shaukat’s husband in the drama “Dumru”, directed by A.K. Hangal.

Shaukat was not formally trained as an actor, unlike her daughter Shabana, but her natural acting skills left a mark in “Haqeeqat”, “Umrao Jaan”, “Baazar”, “Garm Hava”, “Salaam Bombay”, and her last film “Saathiya”. Shabana Azmi played the same role in J P Datta’s “Umrao Jaan” that Shaukat had played in Muzaffar Ali’s film. Many critics believe Shaukat was her ‘mother’ in acting too! Can there be a better remembrance of the great personality?

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 1:49:31 PM |

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