July 25, 2021
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Kaifi Azmi: A Bard Of The Revolution

Kaifi Azmi: A Bard Of The Revolution

Koi to sood chukaaye, koi to zimma le
Is inqualaab ka, jo aaj tak udhaar saa hai…

(Let someone take responsibility for the revolution
And pay off the interest to this pending loan)

The 'debt' that Kaifi Azmi talks about in these eternal lines, still remains unpaid as we observe the 13th death anniversary of the revolutionary Urdu  poet. Azmi, who wrote his first ghazal at the mere age of 11 years, became a prominent face of the left movement in undivided India.

After he abandoned his studies during the Quit India Movement (his parents wanted him to become a maulvi), Azmi became a full-time CPI member. He was also the All India President of the Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA) and an active member of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA). It was during this time, that he took the onus of motivating the young revolutionaries through his nazms. One of his famous nazm Naujawan, goes like this:

Raah agyaar ki dekhain yeh bhale taur nahin
Hum Bhagat Singh ke saathi hain, koi aur nahin.
Zindagi humse sadaa shola-e-jawaani maange
Ilm-o-hikmat ka khazaana humdaani maange
Aisi lalkaar ke talwaar bhi paani maange
Aisi raftaar ke dariya bhi rawaani maange

(That we would wait for others to take lead, does not suit us,
We are the comrades of Bhagat Singh, and none else
Life beseeches us our burning youth
The treasures of knowledge and courage
A cry so sharp that the swords may cry out
Such an electric flow that the oceans may look to us for inspiration)

And it isn't just the youth that he tries to awaken through his poetry. Kaifi's poem for empowering women 'Aurat' remains one of his most popular till date:

qadr ab tak terii tarriikh ne jaanii hii nahiin
tujh mein shole bhii hain bas ashkfishaanii hii nahiin
tu haqiiqat bhii hai dilchasp kahaanii hii nahiin
terii hastii bhii hai ik chiiz javaanii hii nahiin
apnii tarrikh kaa unvaan badalnaa hai tujhe
uth merii jaan mere saath hii chalnaa hai tujhe

(History has not known your worth thus far
You have burning embers too, not merely tears
You're reality too, not a mere amusing anecdote
Your personality is something too, not just your youth
You've to change the title of your history
Get up, my love, you have to walk with me)

He introduced Urdu poetry to Indian cinema along with the likes of Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. And even though the songs are a reflection of his political background and ideology, they also show his romantic side:

Dekhi zamaane ki yaari
bichhde sabhi baari baari
kya leke milen ab duniya se
aansu ke siva kuch paas nahin
ya phool hi phool the daaman mein
ya kaanton ki bhi aas nahin...

(Enough! The loyalty of friends I too have seen
One by one they've all left my side.
With what can I seek to meet with the rest
I have only with me tears at best
Once flowers, only flowers, were my life's concern
Now, for even a thorn I do not yearn.)

At its most sensitive turns, Kaifi Azmi’s poetry was meant to highlight the life of the poor and the suppressed. Azmi had once proudly declared: "I was born in colonial India, I have lived in an independent India, and will die in a socialist India."

Azmi held high expectations from the people's movement. He was deeply agonized to see that the same communist movement, which had taught him the lessons of struggle, which had taught him to sing the songs full of life in favour of the revolutionary forces, was becoming a victim of disunity and disintegration. The agony that he then felt is somewhat expressed in his poem Awara Sajde.

Tum bhi mehboob mere, tum bhi ho dildaar mere
Aashnaa mujh se tum, tum bhi nahin, tum bhi nahin
Khatm hai tum pe masihaa nafsi, chaara gari
Mehram-e dard-e jigar tum bhi nahin, tum bhi nahin
Jin se har daur mein chamki hai tumhaari dehleez
Aaj sajde wahi aawaara hue jaate hain....

(You are my beloved, and you are my well-wisher
You also do not have acquaintance with me, and you also do not
The benevolence, the beneficence stops for you
But you are not aware about the pains in my heart, and you are also not
Those who have paved your way in every period
Those very bowings are becoming wayward today)

But despite his disillusionment with the left movement, he does not seem to lose hope and he writes:

Chand rekhaon mein, seemaon mein
Zindagi qaid hai Seeta ki tarah
Ram kab lauteinge maloom nahin
Kash Rawan hi koi aa jata...

(Life is imprisoned like Sita
When will Ram return, it is not known
Wish at least some Ravan had returned)

On January 26, 1974, on the occasion of the Republic Day, Kaifi also lit lamps in celebration, but this is what he had to say:

Ek diya naam ka azadi ke

(One lamp in the name of independence)

Chahe jis mulk se gehoon mango
Haath phelane ki azadi hai
Ek diya naam ka khushhali ke...
(Ask wheat from any country that you please
You are free to beg
One lamp in the name of well-being)
Pet khaali hai mera jeb meri khali hai
Ek diya naam ka yak-jehti ke...

(I am hungry, I have no money
One lamp in the name of unity)

Towards the end of his life, he returned to his roots in Uttar Pradesh, to the small town of Azamgarh, building a high school for girls and a hospital. And even in his silences he spoke for the grim stillness of all those who had been inspired by the message of the revolution. He wrote:

Woh mera gaanv hai, woh mere gaanv ke chooleh
Ke jinme shole to shole, dhooan nahin milata

(That indeed is my village, and those indeed are the ovens of my village
In which, not to speak of the fires, even the smoke is not seen)

In the more famous matla of this ghazal, he had expressed the restlessness that inspired him:

Main dhoondta hoon jise woh jahan nahin milta
Nai zameen, naya aasmaan nahin milta

(The world that I search for, I do not find,
The New World, the New Heavens I do not find)

To look for Kaifi Azmi, the revolutionary poet, is to keep on searching for that brave new world of his dreams and an egalitarian society.

Also see other works by Kaifi Azmi:

Also from the archives:

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