By Sheshu Babu*


The above poem ‘Doosra Banvas’ by Kaifi Azmi, written in the aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition, reveals the contradictions of the movement that caused it, and is relevant even today. “I was born in a slave India, grew in an Independent India and would like to die in a socialist India”, was his dream. This dream remains unfulfilled as the present system of inequality is growing very rapidly.


Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi (Kaifi Azmi) was born on January 14, 1919 in Mizwaa(n) village of Azamgarh district in UP in a deeply religious landlord . He was sent to a ‘madrassa’ in Lucknow for religious education. But he soon developed social consciousness, organized and held demonstrations. He became ‘comrade’ and not a ‘moulvi’. He was a man of conviction and never deviated from the ideology. In his early 20s, he became a member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) and had the CPI card in his ‘kurta’ even at the time of his death.


Kaifi wrote fiery poems for the deprived, the disadvantaged, dispossessed, downtrodden and underprivileged. He recited them in poetry congregations. Eminent poet late Nida Fazli in his book ‘Chehre’ writes, “Kaifi’s entire poetic work is the story of those tears in different words”. 
Being born in a Shia family, he had mourned for the 72 martyrs of Karbala. After becoming a communist, he mourned for the thousands of sufferers in the world. Nida Fazli mentions in his book that Kaifi’s style of poetry recitation was a part of tradition that he inherited during his childhood in Muharram gatherings. 


A pioneer in Urdu and Hindi poetry, he could publish only a few collections of his poems: ‘Jhankar(1943) , ‘Aakhir-e-shab’ (1947) , ‘Awara sijde’ (1973) and the collected poems Sarmaya (1992) which consist of not more than 125 poems. Many of his writings are uncollected. Despite suffering from cerebral stroke that left him partially paralysed for 25 years, he did not stop writing. He was a master of too. He wrote a column in Urdu ‘Blitz’, which was simultaneously published in Hindi between 1964 and 1972, collected in two volumes titled ‘Nayi Gulistan’.


Kaifi Azami was a poet activist and led many strikes and participated in many protest demonstrations. He was a socially and politically committed shayars and belonged to the legendary poets club of Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Sahir Ludhianvi, Maqdoom Moinuddin, etc. His poetry and his political activities are inseparable. His poems like ‘Andhi’ (Storm) and ‘Bekari’ (Unemployment) depict anger, passion and commitment. In his ‘Istiqlal’ or (Resolve), he visualized the dangers of fascism. 


His epic poem ‘Aurat’ was so inspirational that Shaukat, who was listening to his poem recital at a congregation, proposed and made him her life partner. In ‘Shanti van ke quarib‘ (Near shanti van), he visualizes democracy as a woman riddled with darts. In ‘Jel ke dar par’ (At the gate of a jail) he movingly depicts the emotions of two women and a child visiting their incarcerated bread winner. In ‘Bewa ki khudkushi‘ (The widow’s suicide) he graphically narrates the tale of a young widow killing herself. 
To support financially, he wrote lyrics for the films like ‘Buzdil’ (1951), ‘Kagaz ke phool‘, ‘Shama’, ‘Haqeeqat’, ‘Anupama’, ‘Pakeeza’, ‘Arth’, etc. He wrote about 240 songs for 80 movies. For ‘Heer Ranjha’, he not only wrote Punjabi-flavoured songs but also entire screenplay in verse. He also did a cameo screen role in ‘Naseem’, wrote dialogues for MS Sathyu’s classic ‘Garam Hawa’ and screen play for Shyam Benegal’s ‘Manthan’.


He was honoured with many awards, including Sahitya Akademi Award, Padma Shri and for his dialogues in ‘Garam Hawa’, and received Afro-Asian Lotus Award. But his major role in political and social movements and poetry for the masses makes him one of the greats who influenced post-Independent socialist thinkers and writers. 


Celebrating his centenary, one should strive to achieve his dreams — socialist India with communal harmony. In this year, when there is every likelihood of rising caste or religious bigotry, Kaifi’s works should be a source of inspiration in combatting communal tensions and senseless .

* from anywhere and everywhere is a supporter of communal harmony

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