Kaifi Azmi – REBEL With A Cause

A Man with the Flaming Words



    For Abba With Love

    He was always different, a fact that didn’t sit too easily on my young shoulders. He didn’t go to ‘office’ or wear the normal trousers and shirt like other ‘respectable’ fathers but chose to wear a white cotton kurta-pyjama 24 hrs of the day. He did not speak English and worse still, I didn’t call him ‘Daddy’ like other children, but some strange sounding ‘Abba’! I learned very quickly to avoid referring to him in front of my school friends and lied that he did some vague ‘business!’ Imagine letting my school friends know that he was a poet. What on earth did that mean – a euphemism for someone who did no work?

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    Kaifi & I

    I remember 31st Dec 2002, the last New Years Eve that I spent with Kaifi in Mijwan. Shabana and Javed were with us. It was a far cry from the boisterous New Year celebrations we used to have in Mumbai. There were just a couple of people from the village gathered around the bonfire in the freezing winter’s cold. I cajoled the shy villagers to sing songs, by boisterously taking the lead… Soon the others joined in… someone sang a folk song out of key much to the amusement of the others, Javed cracked jokes which made everyone scream with delight. The shyest person of the lot, suddenly opened up and regaled us with the most amazing mimicry. Kaifi who was too ill to join us sent a message with his nurse Maria to Javed “ Please sing Ai Meri Zohra Jabeen” from the film ‘Waqt’ for my wife from me” ( This is a song that Balraj Sahni sings for his wife Achala Sachdev in the film which has become the hallmark for older people expressing sentiments of romantic love).

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    Kaifi & I – Epilogue


    Young Kaifi

    Life Sketch of the Legend

    Kaifi Azmi’s real name is Athar Husain Rizvi. Born in a Zamindar family in Mijwan, Azamgarh, Kaifi Azmi wrote his first ghazal ‘Itna to zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade’ at the age of eleven.

    He joined the Communist Party at the age of 19, and started writing for the party’s paper, ‘Qaumi Jung’ and moved to Bombay.

    He wrote his first lyric for the film Buzdil directed by Shahid Lateef in 1952. His noted film songs are from Shama, Kaagaz Ke Phool, Shola Aur Shabnam, Anupama, Aakhri Khat, Haqeeqat, Hanste Zakhm, Arth etc. Apart from writing songs, he also wrote Chetan Anand’s film Heer Ranjha entirely in verse and created history in dialogue writing.

    He won the National Award and Filmfare Award for the screenplay and dialogue of M.S. Sathyu’s master piece, ‘Garm Hawa’.

    Recognized as one of the finest poets of our times, Kaifi Azmi is also the most awarded Urdu poet. Major Awards include

    1. Padma Shri
    2. Sahitya Akademi Fellowship
    3. Sahitya Akademi Award
    4. Maharashtra Gaurav Award by Government of Maharashtra
    5. Yash Bhartiya Award by Government of Uttar Pradesh
    6. Delhi Government State Award
    7. Soviet Land Nehru Award
    8. Afro- Asian Writers Lotus Award

    He has been honoured with Doctorates from many universities in India, such as Purvanchal University and Agra University, the most prestigious being from the Vishwa Bharti Universityin Shanti Niketan.

    He was the All India President of the Indian People Theatre Association (IPTA) and an active member of the Progressive Writers Association (PWA).

    He believed that poetry should be used as an instrument for social change and has written several poems against communalism, religious fundamentalism and for the rights of women. His best known poems are ‘Aurat’, Makaan’,‘Daaera’,‘Saanp’, ‘Bahuroopni’ etc.

    Published works are

    1. Jhankar
    2. Akhir – e – Shab
    3. Awara Sajde
    4. Sarmaya
    5. Kaifiyaat – complete works of his poetry
    6. Doosra Banwas
    7. Chuni Hui Shayri
    8. Selected poems – translated by Pavan Verma in English
    9. Nai Gulistan volumes I + II – A weekly column that he used to write in Urdu Blitz entirely in verse has been published as an anthology.
    10. Meri Awaaz Suno – A selection of his film lyrics in Hindi.
    11. Heer RanjhaThe script of Chetan Anand’s film in verse by Vani Prakashan in Devnagri.
    12. A selection of nazms, ghazals and lyrics – published by Rajpal & Sons.

    Private albums include ‘Pyar Ka Jashn’ composed and sung by Roop Kumar Rathod, ‘Shaguftagi’ composed by Khayyam and ‘Kaifiyat’ a collection of poems recited by the poet with background music by Chintoo Singh.

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    An eleven year old boy got himself invited to a mushaira, a gathering of experienced poets and over there recited a couplet of a ghazal. The president of the mushaira really liked his ghazal, however, the little boy’s father and the other people present thought that the kid had recited his elder brother’s ghazal. The boy’s brother denied writing anything. Still the father found it difficult to believe that such a young boy could write such proficient poetry. He decided to put his son to a test. He gave him a line of a couplet and asked him to write a ghazal in the same meter and rhyme. The little boy took up the challenge and in no time completed the ghazal. That particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India and was sung by none other than the legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar and went thus: “Itna to Zindagi Mein Kisiki Khalal Pade Hasne se Ho Sukoon Na Rone sa Kal Pade.”

    Yes the extraordinary child was none other than Kaifi Azmi a man who has remained one of India’s greatest poets and a veteran Lyricist of the Hindi Film Industry.

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    Kaifi’s contribution to Films

Remembering Kaifi