Kaifi Azmi And The Portrayal Of Women In His Poetry - Kaifi Azmi

Kaifi Azmi And The Portrayal Of Women In His Poetry

by Sami Rafiq, Professor, Aligarh Muslim University

Kaifi Azmi And The Portrayal Of Women In His Poetry

Kaifi Azmi belonged to Progressive Writers Movement about which much has been written. He was a poet of distinction and according to Ranjit Hoskote( he challenged) the demons of injustice, bigotry and exploitation in a series of collections including Jhankar, Akhir e Shab, Awara Sajde and Sarmaya.

Professor Ale Ahmad Suroor has mentioned in his article “ Taraqqi Pasand Tehriq Par Ek Nazar” that :

In our world the windows were closed for a long time and when they were opened some people thought that the enjoyment of the window scene alone was literature but the Progressive Writers movement is niether a literature of the window and neither its enjoyment. These windows are meant to bring in fresh winds and new experiences and also to light up inner pugnacities.(translation mine)

The arrival of the Progressive Writers Movement can be aptly compared to the arrival of the Impressionistic painters in France in the 19th c. who broke the traditional codes of painting within closed doors and on limited subjects.Just as the Impressionistic painters wanted to paint the reality and the truth of humanity, the Progressive Writers too wanted to express the truth about human existence and humanity.

In his essay titled “Adab ki Garz o gayab” based on his address to the first meeting of the All Indian Progressive Writers Association, he has mentioned how the writings of the Progressive Writers were different from earlier writings of prose and poetry in which praise of beauty and sensuality and sexuality were the main objectives. However the objective of the Progressive writers is service to society and a goal to awaken society towards a higher consciousness.

One finds all these qualities in the poetry of Kaifi Azmi. Just as Majaz focussed on the beauty and purity of women rather than their sexuality, in Kaifi Azmi’s poems too such as “Ek Bewaa ki Khukashi” and “Aurat” one discovers a profound understanding of the trials and tribulations of women in a male dominated society.

Unlike the traditional Urdu poetry where women were only an accompaniment to wine, song and romance, there was a marked change of attitudes towards love and romance in the writings of Progressives such as Sahir Ludhianvi, Asrarul Haq Majaz, Ali Sardar Jafri, Moin Ahsan Jazbi and Kaifi Azmi.

They all felt the pain of the exploitation and degradation of women  deeply and gave a call to the woman to throw off her shackles.

So Majaz said …

Tere maathe pe yeh aanchal bahut hi khoob hai lekin, tu is aanchal se parcham bana leti to accha tha

Sahir Ludhianvi’ s immortal poem :

Aurat ne janm diya mardon ko
Mardon ne use bazaar diya
Jab jee chaha masla kuchla
Jab jee chaha dutkaar diya

too expresses the irony of the one who gives birth to men who sell her, burn her, torture her or relegate her to an inferior status.

Ali Sardar Jafri draws out the simplicity and beauty of an impoverished fisherwoman in “Samander ki beti”. Moin Ahsan Jazbi who wrote paeans on a woman’s sensuous beauty, also wrote a poem on a  little girl worshipper, “Nanhi Pujaran” which brings out all the innocence and childishness in a little girl. All these poets had a fresh approach to the image of a woman.

Kaifi Azmi’s immortal poems “ Aurat” and “ Bewaa ki Khudkhasi”  though they seeem to move along the somewhat similar lines have  greater intensity and depth of feeling.

In the poem “Aurat” the following lines show a deep understanding of the social problems faced by a woman

Uth meri jaan mere saath chalna hai tujhe
Goshe goshe mein sulagti hai chita tere liye
Farz ka bhes badalti hai qazaa tere liye
Qahar hai teri har narm adaa tere liye
Zehar hi zehar hai duniya ki hawa tere liye
Rut badal daal agar phoolna phalna hai tujhe
Uth meri jaan mere saath hi chalna hai tujhe.. 

Arise my love, you have to walk with me
A pyre burns for you  in every corner
Death disguises itself as duty for you
Your gentle style is punishment for you
The world has only poison for you
Change the world if you want to blossom
Arise my love, you have to walk with me (translation mine)

The poet is giving a call to his female companion that she must walk with him shoulder to shoulder. The images of the ‘ pyre’ ‘poison’ ‘ duty’ and ‘punishment’ are very evocative and expressive of ironies of a woman’s life in a male dominated traditional society.

The ‘chita’ or ‘pyre’ which is derived from the idea of women being burned on the funeral pyre also reminds of harsh norms which burn down or destroy a woman’s personality. The pyre which is not one alone but in every corner shows how the woman is challenged by ordeals at every point in her life.

Farz’ or ‘duty’ is a death call, because a woman in Indian society must sacrifice herself in the role of doing her duties. Her feminity or gentleness is ‘qahar’ or a curse for her because it leads her to be exploited and suppressed. The poet tells the woman that she must change the ‘world’  or ‘rut’ of attitudes in order to fulfill her dreams and desires.

In another stanza the poet gives her a clarion call to rebel against society and its unjust traditions thus:

Tod kar rasm ka buth bande qadamat se nikal
Qaid ban jaaye mohabbat to mohabbat se nikal

Break the statue of traditions and escape the old prison
If love becomes captivity, then escape from love. (translation mine)

The poem “ Bewaa ki khudkashi’’ displays the poet’s  understanding of widow’s feelings and suppression.The poem also reveals the poets skillfulness and dexterity in describing a woman’s emotions and feelings.

Udti hai kaali ghata duniya dubone ke liye
Ya chali hai baal khole raand rone ke liye
Jitni hai gunjaan basti itni hi weeran hai
Har gali khamosh hai har rasta sunsaan hai 

The black cloud hovers threatening to drown the world
Or the widow with hair open is ready to weep
The crowded town is full of loneliness
Every lane is quiet, every road is silent (translation mine)

The widow’s mood of sorrow and isolation is captured through images from nature.Kaifi Azmi is adept at using nature imagery to capture the moods and anxieties of a woman.

In the following lines even mute objects are used skillfully to express the agony of the widow:

Aake hoton par kabhi maayoos aahein tham gayeen
Aur kabhi sooni kalai par nigaahein jum gayeen
Itni duniya me kahin apni jagah paati nahin
Yaas us hud ki ke shauhar ki bhi yaad aati nahin 

Hopeless sighs sometimes froze on the lips
And sometimes eyes were glued on the naked wrists
She finds no place for herself in the whole world
So sorrowful that she even forgot to remember her husband (translation mine)

These lines reveal a deep sense of pathos and also the suppressed desires of the widow,

The Progressive Writers also displayed a new style of romantic poetry which did not follow the earlier style of wine and drunkenness. “Nora’’ a poem on a nurse by Majaz is unusual because  of its subject matter and its boldness. In a similar manner the sensuousness of Jazbi’s romantic poetry has a deep personal note in it.

Kaif Azmi’s poem “Tum” shows originality and freshness in the admiration of the beloved’s beauty:

Jise utha na sake justuju woh moti ho
Jise na goonth sake aarzoo wo haar ho tum
Jise na boojh sake ishq woh paheli ho
Jise samajh na saka pyar bhi woh pyar ho tum 

You are the pearl which could not be sought
You are that garland which desire could not weave
You are that riddle that love could not solve
You are that love which even love could not understand

In this stanza there is a breaking up of conventional pairs of words such as ‘pearl and seeking’  or ‘ garland and desire ‘ or’ love and riddles’.

The poet experiments with language to express the unusual beauty of his beloved.

Another poem titled Bahroopni describes evil through a feminine form.The title itself suggest a woman with many faces or disguises. The identity of this woman is not revealed till the end of the poem:

Jaane kis kokh ne jana isko
Jaane kis sahan mein jawaan hui
Jaane kis des se chali kumbaqt
Waise yeh har zubaan bolti hai
Zakhm khidki ki tarah kholti hai

Which womb gave birth to her
In which courtyard did she grow up
From which country does she hail
Though she speaks every language
And opens every wound like a window

The poet manages to create a tension in the reader’s mind by using the interrogative form.

The poet attempts to destroy her evil form but the reader still cannot identify who she is:

Chahta hoon ki katl kar doon ise
Waar  lekin jab is pe karta hoon
Mere seene pe zakhm ubharte hain
Mere maathe se khoon tapakta hai
Jaane kya mera iska rishta hai

I wish to murder her
But whenever I am poised for attack
The wounds on my chest awaken
Blood drips from my forehead
I wonder what is my relationship with her

The lines express a relationship of violence and bloodshed and the poet appears helpless before her.

It is only in the last two stanzas of the poem that the poet reveals in a dramatic fashion his relationshio to this evil woman:

Isne mujhko alag bula ke kaha
Aaj ki zindagi ka naam hai khouf
Khouf hee woh zameen hai jisme
Firqe ugte hain firqe palte hain
Dhare sagar se kat ke chalte hain 

Khouf jab tak dilon mein baqi hai
Sirf chehra badalte rahna hai
Sirf lahja badalte rahna hai
Koi mujhko mita nahin  sakta
Jashn e adam mana nahin sakta

She beckoned to me and said
Fear is the name of life today
Fear is that ground where
Communalism grows and thrives
Where the streams leave the Ocean

As long as there is fear in hearts
Only a change of face is needed
Only a change of tone is needed
No one can destroy me
No one can celebrate the unity of Adam

Through the symbol of a multifaceted evil woman Kaifi Azmi has very effectively created the picture of fear and insecurity that creates communalism.This poem also brings out his humanitarian perspective as he tries to uncover the source of bloodshed, violence and communalism in Indian society .By showing the many guises of fear in the form of the “bahroopni” or woman with many guises he wants to awaken society to realize the unity of its religious and cultural roots.

Through the line ‘where streams leave the Ocean’ the poet suggests that communalism is an unnatural state as opposed to all streams leading to one ocean.

Sami Rafiq
Department of English
Faculty of Arts
Aligarh Muslim University
Aligarh 202002



Hoskote, Ranjit.  “Kaifi Azmi: Symbol of resistance.”