Roz badhta huun jahan se aage
Phir vahan laut ke aa jaata huun
Baar-ha tod chuka huun jin ko
Unhin divaron se takrata huun
It’s not every day that the life and love story of one of India’s greatest poets – and a moment in time where great talent and momentous political and cultural history collided – is brought to life by two of India’s national treasures. Kaifi Aur Main is a theatre play about the writer, poet and activist Kaifi Azmi which is written and performed by lyricist and scriptwriter Javed Akhtar alongside Kaifi Sahab’s daughter and legendary actor Shabana Azmi. After hugely successful and critically acclaimed runs in India, the US, Canada and Dubai, it’s coming to London in September.
Kaifi Azmi is considered by some as one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century. His much-loved poetry is resplendent with the arabesques so characteristic of great Urdu shayari – those intricate tendrils of words whose meaning shapes itself to the imagination of the beholder. On joining India’s Communist Party and the Progressive Writers’ Movement in the early 1940s, he turned to political poetry, using Urdu’s wealth of phrase to protest poverty, inequality and social injustice in colonial and post-colonial India. Devastated at partition, he wrote Main dhundta huun which you can hear him recite here. Here are some of my favourite couplets from that ghazal:
Main dhundta huun jise vo jahan nahin milta/ Na.i zameen naya aasman nahin milta
Na.i zameen naya aasman bhi mil jaa.e/ Na.e bashar ka kahin kuchh nishan nahin milta
Vo tegh mil ga.i jis se hua hai qatl mira/ Kisi ke haath ka us par nishan nahin milta
Jo ik khuda nahin milta to itna matam kyuun/ Yahaan to koi mera ham-zaban nahin milta
The play is based in part on the book Yaadon ke Rehguzar (‘The Road of Memories’) written by the poet’s theatre and film actor wife Shaukat Azmi about their 55-year marriage, and in part on the poet’s own interviews and letters. I read the English translation of the book (titled Kaifi and I) a few years ago – a small book of a quiet romance which spanned momentous times. I remember this evocative line about the author’s early years in noble Hyderabad:
“Surrounded by the fragrance of kevra, khas and agar, and radiant in their colourful khara dupattas, Hyderabadi girls were like creatures from a fairytale world – and I delighted in being one of them.”
She goes on to chart her life-changing first meeting with the poet at a mushaira in Hyderabad, their times living in the Communist Party’s commune in Mumbai, her work with the legendary Prithvi Theatre, Kaifi Sahab’s film writing, and the couple’s eventual return to Mijwan, her husband’s ancestral village.
Kaifi Aur Main features Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar reading the couple’s parts, as well renditions of Kaifi Sahab’s ghazals and film songs sung by ghazal singer Jaswinder Singh. The play premiered in 2006, four years after the poet’s death, and has received excellent reviews every time its been performed. This is obviously in no small part due to the fact that Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar are artistic powerhouses in their own right, and also intimately connected to the story they’re telling. Like I said earlier, it’s not every day…
Also, the songs! Kaifi Sahab is responsible for some seminal milestones in Bollywood’s discography. Chalte Chalte (Pakeezah, 1972), Zara Si Aahat Hoti Hai (Haqeeqat, 1964), Yeh Nayan Dare Dare (Kohra, 1964), Ye Duniya Ye Mehfil Mere Kaam ki NahiN (Heer Ranjha, 1970). And… this.
When: Sunday 4th September 2016, 6.30pm
Where: Indigo O2, Peninsula Square, London SE10 0DX
More info: The O2 – Kaifi Aur Main
Posted by SK on 21 August 2016
Photos from azmikaifi.com