Exclusive Premium Content

For Father’s Day Shabana Azmi Remembers Her Great Father Poet-Writer-thinker Kaifi Azmi

“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.

“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.  Baba is now writing a script which he’ll direct. In that script  you can see  the prodigal son return. 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.”

“My earliest memory  of Abba…Of him 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. Daddys 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. 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…. 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. My concern for slum-dwellers started with my father’s poem Makaan which talks of  the irony of  the construction worker who builds  a building with his sweat and blood  but isn’t allowed  to enter  it.”

Shabana pauses and then resumes: “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–Kuch dil ne kaha…..kuch bhi nahin….As  a film lyricist, he was a mixture  of  simplicity and poeticality. Take these lines 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 kills 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 find it very strange when people say, how could Aamir Khan have taken up an issue without knowing  the nitty-gritty of it?  Arrey when Gandhiji  was thrown  off the train in South Africa, he responded emotionally. When I went on a hunger strike twenty years ago on behalf  of  slum-dwellers, I didn’t know the issues as well as I do today. I come from a background where my parents believe art is an instrument of social change.  At a time when my father could’ve reveled  in the luxury of his success in the film industry he chose to go back to his village  in Azamgarh to work  on  its development. Imagine a man paralyzed for thirty years making  his village into a place of progress single-handedly.    One day I asked him  if he feels frustrated when change doesn’t happen as speedily as he’d have liked. He told me we must all be  prepared  for  that change  to not happen in  our lifetime.  This  to me, is  the one mantra that I’ve taken  from my father. I don’t look for instant results at all. That’s why I couldn’t be  a politician.

Delhi mein bhi hai Kaifi Azmi road DPS school ke saamne. There is a Kaifi Azmi road in Mijwan. The Sultanpur Expressway in UP  is also called Kaifi Azmi Expressway.
Govt of india has named train from Azamgarh-Delhi Kaifiyaat Express ( the name of his complete works of poetry) in recognition of his stellar work. There r only 2 other writers who have trains named after their work- Gitanjali Express after Rabindranath Tagore’s work, Godaan Express after Premchands work 
On 18th Feb 2012 Hyderabad ke mayor ne ailan kiya hai Rd no 3 Banjara Hills Kaifi Azmi road, Ramkote Eden Garden Ustad Bismillah Khan Road, Ramkote Circle Pandit Bhimsen Joshi road. Inauguration will be in third week of March.

“If you ask me who among contemporary lyricists has inherited  my father’s legacy I’d say my  husband Javed Akhtar. Abba himself used to say this.  They both have this amazing vocabulary which if they wanted, they could flaunt  generously. Still they both keep their poetry simple.  There was never a word in Urdu that my father couldn’t give me the meaning of.  I told Amit (Bachchan) this. And he said, ‘My father could do this in both English and  Hindi.’ Can  you imagine!  To this day it’s a big void in my life that I can’t write Urdu, though I can read it. It’s something I have to do. Javed keeps telling me I’ve my father’s restless spirit. But if I’m cleaning a cupboard that’s  relaxation for me, though Javed doesn’t agree.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button