Tribute to Kaifi Azmi


We are deeply grieved to learn of Kaifi Azmi’s demise on the morning of the 10th of May, 2002.

Kaifi Azmi was one of the last of that generation of poets who were born in a colonized country, fought for its freedom, hoped for and struggled to build a secular, democratic and socialist India. It is ironic that a man who fought religious orthodoxy in his early youth, fought the colonial rulers and lived his entire life according to the principles that he professed, breathed his last as the secular fabric of his beloved motherland lay in tatters.

Kaifi Azmi was born into the feudal family of Mijwan near Phulpur in Azamgarh district in 1917. His interest in poetry had been noticed even in his childhood and he began writing traditional ghazals at age 11.

After early education in a madrasa in his home town, he went to Lucknow, which exposed him to an entirely new world, a world that was rising against feudal exploitation and colonial rule. Kaifi imbibed these ideas more readily than the lessons of theology that were intended for him. He initiated the formation of a students’ union and led a strike for the demands of the students. The strike lasted for a year and a half before being called off. Kaifi was expelled from the seminary for his troubles.

It was during this period that his qualities of leadership were noticed by the Communist Party and the leading progressive writers of Lucknow. The Communist Party and the Progressive Writers movement gave him all possible help. While the path of his future as a theologian was blocked with his expulsion, the doors to a new world were opened for him. He joined the Communist Party as the 1930s were coming to a close. Kaifi moved


to Bombay and began work as a whole timer in Quami Jang, the Urdu weekly of the Communist Party. He also involved himself in organizing trade union activities among the textile and other industrial workers of Bombay.

Throughout this period his poetry was gradually getting transformed and he began moving away from the traditional form and content of the ghazal to that of the nazm. It was around this time that Kaifi began writing songs for films. His lyrics for Kagaz ke Phool, Haqeeqat and Heer Ranjha, and his screenplay for Heer Ranjha established him as one of the leading lyricists of Hindustani cinema.

Kaifi’s poetry was poetry with a purpose, once he accepted the ideals of an equitable social order, just as he spent his entire life propagating them. Many of his film lyrics talk of this dream and it is this idealism that imbues his poetry and his lyrics with strength and beauty.

Jhankaar, Aukhir-e-Shab, Aawara Sajde, Iblees ki Majlis-e-Shoora are some of his published works. Aawara Sajde, proscribed during the emergency regime of 1975-77, later went on to win several national and international awards, including the UP Sahitya Akademi award, the Soviet Land Nehru award and the national Sahitya Akademi Award. He was also given the Maharashtra State Urdu Academy Award for his life-long contribution to Urdu, besides the Lotus Award instituted by the Afro- Asian Writers Association.

Kaifi Azmi leaves behind Shaukat, his wife and well-known theatre and cinema actress of yesteryears, his daughter Shabana Azmi, activist, actress and MP, cinematographer son Baba Azmi, and a host of grieving comrades, lovers of Urdu and of cinema. We convey our deep-felt condolences to the members of his family.