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Kaifi Azmi - the last comrade-poet
By Tarique Omum

Kaifi AzmiKar chale ham fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo
Ab tumhare hawale watan saathiyo

(Consecrating our lives to our land, we leave (for war), our land is now in your care, friends…).

There could be no greater tribute to offer than to quote Kaifi’s immortal lines itself which give an insight into his life and mission. An eminent progressive poet, the last comrade whose poetry championed the cause of the down-trodden and the oppressed, great crusader for secular values, the voice of the progressive movement, Syed Athar Husain Rizwi popularly known as Kaifi Azmi remained an active worker of the Communist Party till the very end. The poet and savior of the poor left for his heavenly abode. In fact, Kaifi’s demise marks the end of an era and a tradition. He left an indelible impression on Indian literature and society through his poetry and tireless efforts for social justice and intrepid views. Kaifi did not confine himself to protected chamber; rather he actively worked for the cause of the workers.

Kaifi quotes in his autobiography, "What I can say with conviction about myself is simply that I was born in subjugated India and grew old in independent India and will die in a socialist India. These are not the ravings of a lunatic person nor the dream of a crazy idealist. Myself and my poetry have always been associated with socialism for which great struggle has been going on for a long time in India and the world over. My poetry is born out of this very conviction". 

Kaifi had revealed his conviction much earlier, rather before Ram temple and the fanaticism in the name of religion. And it happened before the horrific face of communalism could appear on horizon. But the tag of a number of prominent socialists with communalism, the rape of democracy and socialism in Gujarat, bleeding humanity and pulverized ghettoes of the poor proved a fatal shock for the poet and his longing to die in a socialist India remained unfulfilled. Unfortunately, he could not realize his craving to die in a socialist India of his vision which he cherished all his life.

Kaifi, basically, was blessed with romantic temperament which is manifest from his early poetry. But the "terrible realities" of life led him to progressive poetry. He emerged as the poet of the workers and set a trend to voice the stark realities of life through poems and lyrics. Faiz said about him, "Kaifi is straight-forward and righteous. He depicts the cruel and hard facts of life which surround us". 

His staunch belief in the well-being of the poor, the oppressed and the down-trodden is reflected in his works. He composed his first ghazal at the tender age of eleven. His major poetic works include Jhankar (1943), Aakhri Shab (1947), Aawara Sajde (1973), Meri Aawaz Suno (1974). He was an active member of IPTA (Indian People’s Theatre Association) and later its president. 

Gulzar, a veteran lyricist and film director writes, "His role in theatre was very important – he ensured that even after the communist movement started dying, its cultural component was kept alive. Like Sahir, he wrote romantic poetry. Makaan, one of his poems (which also is the favourite poem of Gulzar) begins thus: 
Aaj ki raat bahut garam hawa chalti hai
Aaj ki raat na neend aayegi
Hum sub uthen, main bhi uthun, tum bhi utho
Koi khidki isi deewar mein khul jayegi

Kaifi Azmi was honoured with a number of national and international awards for his invaluable contribution to Indian culture; the more prominent among them are: Uttar Pradesh Urdu Academy Sahitya Award, Special Award of Maharashtra Urdu Academy, Soviet Land Nehru Award, Sahitya Academy Award, Lotus Award, President Award for National Integration, Filmfare Awards (for best story, screenplay, an dialogue), Padam Shree, Sahitya Academy Fellowship Award, Afro-Asia Lekhak Award, Millennium Award of Delhi Urdu Academy and Jyaneshwara Award of Maharashtra Government. Recently, he was honoured with the prestigious Sahitya Academy "Fellowship Award".

His preoccupation with the cause of the poor and the oppressed disillusioned him even in the glittering world of Bollywood. He was a man deeply connected to his grassroots, not just in Mumbai but also in his hometown Azamgarh. Shabana Azmi, the beloved daughter of Kaifi, says, "The tireless and painstaking efforts of Kaifi during the last two decades have brought home road, electricity, a small hospital, a school and a post office in Mijwan, his birth place in Azamgarh District. To bring all these facilities to a small village was almost a distant dream because obstacles befell at every step (due to unscrupulous government officers). Indomitable will and an extraordinary skill to organize people kept him dynamic throughout his life".

Kaifi Azmi passed away on 10 May, 2002. He is survived by wife (Shaukat Azmi) daughter (famous actress Shabana Azmi) and son (Baba Azmi).

Kaifi, with all his poetic-legacy, will always be remembered. May his soul rest in peace. 

A beautiful song by Kaifi Azmi reminds us of our tradition of love, compassion and co-existence: 
Ujade hue chaman mein yeh rang-e-pairahan mein
Sau rang muskraaye, sau phool lahlahaaye
Aayeen nayi bahaarein, phelaane lageen phuaaren 
Ghunghat ki laj rakhna, is sar pe taj rakhna

(In our wrecked garden, let a hundred colours smile, let a hundred flowers bloom, let new spring seasons come and fountains play. Protect the honour of veil. Keep the crown on our heads…).

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