On Kaifi Azmi’s 102nd Birth Anniversary, in an exclusive interview with SpotboyE.com, Shabana Azmi opens up on her legendary activist-father. She recalls memories of him and revealed how he was everything to her.
More than anything else, I am amazed at how relevant Kaifi Saab’s poetry remains?
As a daughter I’ve always taken Abba for granted but as a lover of poetry I continue to be overwhelmed by his work as a poet and a lyricist. His lyrics were for a given character in a given situation but he gave us immortal songs like Waqt ne kiya kya haseen sitam from Kagaz ke Phool, Kar Chale hum fida from Haqeeqat , Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho from Arth and many others. He used to say humorously that in his time the tune was composed first and then the writer had to fit in the word .. it’s like first digging a grave and then finding a corpse to fit into it .. so sometimes the head would stick out sometimes the legs but people started giving me work because they thought “Main murde achche gaadh leta hoon!”
His poetry is extraordinarily progressive?
When I read his poetry whether it is the iconic Aurat or Makaan or Bekaari or Kisaan I cannot but marvel at how ahead of his times he was . He would have been out there in the cold expressing solidarity with the farmers. My work with slumdwellers was greatly inspired by his poem Makaan where he talks about the irony of the construction worker who puts his blood and sweat into a building. But when it’s completed a chowkidar is posted at the gate and he is not allowed to enter that very building.
Your earliest memories of your father?
My earliest memory of Abba(father Kaifi Azmi)... sitting on a writing table in his kurta-pyjama smoking incessantly and writing till the wee hours of the morning. As a child I was convinced a poet was a euphemism for someone who didn’t have any work. Daddy’s were supposed to put on trousers, shirts and ties and go out to work. In fact when people would ask me what my father did I said he was a businessman and quickly changed the topic….Oh, the follies of innocence…My father was a really gorgeous-looking man with this beautiful voice.
Tell us something that we don’t know about him?
People don’t know this, but he had a tremendous sense of humour. I remember once I was putting eye-drops in his tiny eyes. The drops kept falling all over his face. He told me about this inept prince who was taught archery and who broke everything in the house during practice. Then he said, ‘Put the drops in my ears they’ll go in my eyes.’ He said such lines with a poker face. He always made digs at the strange procedure in our films where tunes came first and lyrics were written into them later. ‘It’s like first digging a grave and then trying to fit a corpse into it. But I constantly keep fitting the corpse into the grave, so everyone thinks I’m a good lyricist’ he said.
His thoughts and poetry continue to be relevant to this day?
You know I took my father for granted, as all children tend to. But as a poet he continues to overwhelm me each day even four years after his death. Whether it was his poem Makaan or Aurat…they’ve been a great source of inspiration. .In Hindi cinema, along with Sahir, Majrooh , Jaan Nissar Akhtar and Shailendra, my father raised the standards of film lyrics. They were often deceptively conversational, like Kuch dil ne kaha…..kuch bhi nahin….As a film lyricist he was a mixture of simplicity and poeticality. Take these lines from Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Satyakam, Kissi ka na ho jiss pe saaya mujheaisi din aisi raat do/ Main manzil to khud dhoond loongi mere haath main zaraa apna haath do/ Qadam-do-qadam tum mera saath do….And when Lataji sang these lines by my father….what can be said? You know what was exceptional about my father?
He never spoke at home about his work. My most favourite Kaifi Azmi lyrics? Hmmmmm… Koi kaise yeh bataaye ke wohtanha kyon hai/who jo apna tha who aur kisika kyon hai/yehi duniya hai to phir aisi yeh duniya kyon hai/yehi hota hai to aakhir yehi hota kyon hai?…The simplicity of these lines kill me. Imagine, a spouse-deserted woman (in the film Arth) being faced with these lines!….That sense of commitment which artistes of my father’s generation had , has been missing. But slowly it’s coming back in my film fraternity. I like it when film people come out to involve themselves with social issues.
I remember meeting him just once at Janki Kutir. I was waiting for you and he came out on the l verandah where I was sitting, smiled sat down and gently and asked me questions about Patna?
I want to share an incident with you about Abba. The last time he ever got out of bed was 14 January 2002 which was his birthday. I had gone down to Mijima (our village in Azamgarh) to meet him. From early morning I had been sitting waiting for him to finish meeting all the villagers. Finally, my father hauled himself out of bed and asked my mother for some money. No one had the guts to ask this very old and frail man where he was going off to with his man-Friday. Forty-five minutes later he came back, all drained out. He looks at me and says,
‘Mere gaon wale tumhara subah se bheja chaat rahen hai na? Main apne chidiya ke liya khaas taur se wohsamose lekar aaya hoon jo ussey bahut pasand hai.’ That was the last time he moved out of bed. When Abba passed away I realized nothing prepares you for the loss of a parent…NOTHING! I was completely devastated. But now years later I feel his spirit envelopes me like the air I breathe. I remember him with celebration. I do not remember him with sorrow….My brother Baba Javed, his poem ‘Ajeeb Aadmi’ on my father…these have helped me heal.
Kaifi Saab’s relationship with your mother is one of the best love stories I’ve ever come across?
My mother was a remarkable companion to my father. It was an amazing relationship. I was attracted to Javed because he was exactly like my father. In getting to know Javed I got to know my father. Like Abba, Javed is a feminist. My father had this complete dependence on domestic matters on my mother. Even I’ve to buy all the clothes and shoes for Javed. Likewise,the tailor who stitched my father’s kurta-pyjamas never saw his face. Neither Abba nor Javed have seen the kitchen in the house. Nor can they fix anything around the house. But both can do anything if they set their heart on it. Javed fights to win. I fight to play the game…..My brother Baba is an extreme introvert. He shared an extremely deep relationship with my father. Baba’s wife Tanvi, who’s the most talkative person in the world, would run out of the room when Abba and Baba were together. They just shared silences.
Your father was your truest hero?
Abba was everything to me. I continue with his good work in our village. He was my comrade, I remember when I went on my padyatra from Delhi to Meerut. There was so much tension. But when I went to my father he caught my face in his hands and said, ‘Meri bahadur beti jaa rahi hai? Jao tumhein kuch nahin hoga. Sirf kaamyab hoke lautogi.’ It was like a gust of oxygen pumped into me. Ours was an open house during Abba. It continues to be so. My reference point and the choices in life will always come from him, his poetry, work, life and courage.”
Image source: SpotboyE archive/ Wikipedia
They say the best things in life are free! India’s favourite music channels 9XM, 9X Jalwa, 9X Jhakaas & 9X Tashan are available Free-To-Air. Make a request for these channels from your Cable, DTH or HITS operator.