Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tu jo bejaan khilonon se bahel jaati haiy
Tapti saanson ki haraarat se pighul jaati haiy
Paaon jis raah mein rakhti hai phisul jaati haiy
Bunkey seemaab hur ek zurf mein dhul jaati haiy
Zindagi jihad main hay sabar kay qabu main nahin.
Jannat ek aur hay jo murd kay pahloo main naheen.
Uski azaad ravish pur bhi machalna hay tujhey
Zeest key aahni saanchey main dhulna hai tujhey
Uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhey.Ã¢â‚¬Â
These verses are from the Urdu poem Ã¢â‚¬Å“AuratÃ¢â‚¬Â (Woman) written by the famous Urdu poet from India, Kaifi Azmi. What is remarkable is that Kaifi wrote this poem in the 1940s before the independence of India. In that era when the Indian society was very traditional and very much a manÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s world, such thoughts were almost unheard of. But then Kaifi was always decades ahead of his time.
The same Kaifi rebelled against his traditional aristocratic family from Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh when in 1947 he married a beautiful woman Shaukat, whom he discovered in a mushaira in Hyderabad. Also in that feudal era he asked Shaukat to join the theater company in Bombay. In those days it was unheard of for a Muslim woman from a respectable family to work in theater. But that was typical of Kaifi and his lifelong ethos Ã¢â‚¬â€œ sailing against the wind and the current.
Kaifi who was born as Syed Akhtar Hussain Rizvi, grew up in the village of Meejwan in Azamgarh district, where his father was a learned and well to do zamindar (landowner). There was no road connecting Meejwan to Azamgarh city. News of the world travelled into the village with occasional travelers, who travelled for several days from the city.
Kaifi has recounted that as a small boy in Meejwan he would often wander into the jungle and marvel at the beauty of the puff of cotton wool trembling out of a dry shell on a Babool tree. And on the way home he would watch with fascination the village potter at work, turning earthen clay into shapes and forms. How does cotton wool burst out of a tree? How does clay form into beautiful shapes? He first put such thoughts into Urdu poetry at the tender age of eight, which surely startled his father. At age eleven Kaifi startled many elders in a mushaira when he recited his first ghazal, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Itna To Zindagi Mein Kisi Ki Khalal Pade Ã¢â‚¬Å“.
But more surprise was in store for his father. Kaifi was sent to Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sultan al MadarisÃ¢â‚¬Â a well known religious seminary in Lucknow, to be trained as a Moulvi (cleric). But he soon rebelled against the men who were to initiate him in the principles of his religious faith. He formed a studentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ union and staged a year long strike demanding that the archaic teaching methods be changed. The strike was successful but Kaifi had to leave the seminary. As Kaifi grew into a youth he realized that there were bonded laborers in his village. He was not allowed to play with the children of the laborers. Even at that time, he recounted later, he felt that this servitude was a dehumanizing shackle.
Perhaps KaifiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first impression of literature commemorating the need for a just society came from his grandmother, who used to read stories of earlier era to him Ã¢â‚¬â€œ of just kings and martyrs for the cause of righteousness. These stories were the first protest literature that left an abiding impression on young Kaifi. As Kaifi grew into a formidable poet, he wrote more and more about the gaps of inequality in society – that separate rich from poor; men from women; messiahs of God from believers; and so on.
His was not the voice of the poet who sings, but of a poet who rages like a lion who knows the depth and ferocity of the jungle, his landscape. In Bombay where he moved to in 1943, he was among the very first band of intellectuals who had given up their feudal moorings to become larger men. The same year he became a member of the Communist Party of India, and a member of the Progressive Writers Movement, and since then a committed activist. Those were the days of fervor, the spirit of revolution and idealism. Yet in Bombay he also wrote a lot of enchanting romantic poetry that became the unforgettable lyrics of many a successful Bollywood movies. For instance his enchanting ghazal:
Ã¢â‚¬Å“ Kiya ghum hay jo chupaa rahay ho
Itna jo tum muskuraa rahaiy ho.Ã¢â‚¬Â
1943 was also the year when his first collection of Urdu poems, Ã¢â‚¬Å“JhankaarÃ¢â‚¬Â was published. Some of his other anthologies of Urdu poems are: Aaakhri Shub, Sarmaya, Awara Sijday, Kaifiyat, Nai Gulistaan. Some of KaifiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s best poems are: Aurat, Makaan, Daaera, Saanp, Bahrupni. The first movie for which he wrote lyrics was Ã¢â‚¬Å“BuzdilÃ¢â‚¬Â , released in 1952.
The unpredictable Kaifi struck again after acquiring fame as a poet and intellectual in Bombay. In 1984 he moved back to his ancestral village of Muzgaon, which is still reachable from Azamgarh after a slow and tortuous journey. It is a far cry from the glamour and intellectual life of Mumbai. Yet Kaifi continued to live there and built a school for the children of the village. As the curious village folks will routinely gather around the small gas stove in his house, Kaifi will feel at peace with himself. The same Kaifi who could not bear to see the statue of Jesus Christ on the cross in a church in Mahim, a suburb in his adopted hometown of Bombay, without getting agonized by the realization that the statue was writing in pain Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the subject matter of his famous poem, Ã¢â‚¬Å“MasihaÃ¢â‚¬Â (saviour).
Kaifi passed away peacefully on May 10, 2002, at his home in Meejwan village, far from the hustle and bustle and the perpetual rat race of the megapolis of Bombay Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the city that he took by storm some fifty years ago. Today KaifiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s countrymen from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds remember him fondly for his love of life, his marvelous literary creations and his struggle for the causes of the common man Ã¢â‚¬â€œ his very special jihad.
Photo: Kaifi Azmi