As part of Indian Urdu poet Kaifi Azmi’s birth centenary celebrations, a bilingual English-Hindi anthology of his poems entitled Kaifi Azmi: Poems/Nazms was launched in New Delhi on Monday.
Published by Bloomsbury India, the volume is selected, introduced, edited and co-translated by Sudeep Sen, editorial director of Aark Arts and editor of Atlas.
Shabana Azmi, an internationally acclaimed actor and activist who’s also the poet’s daughter, launched the book at a program at the India Habitat Centre auditorium. The launch was followed by the screening of Kaifinama, a documentary on the poet’s life and works, directed by Sumantra Ghosal. Later on, Azmi, Ghosal and Sen recited some of Kaifi Azmi’s most celebrated poems from the collection.
In this collector’s edition of Kaifi Azmi: Poems/Nazms, Sen has deftly assembled 50 Hindi poems, accompanied by their English translations, from Kaifi’s towering body of work. These new and selected translations are contributed by translators, poets, scholars and filmmakers including Husain Mir Ali, Baidar Bakht, Sumantra Ghosal, Pritish Nandy and Sen himself.
The book, moreover, presents readers with a rare collection of his archival photographs, beginning from his childhood to his last days.
Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi, known as Kaifi Azmi, is considered one of the greatest Urdu poets of the 20th century. He was born into a Muslim zamindar family in a village called Mijwan, Uttar Pradesh in 1918. At the age of eleven, to eliminate his father’s skepticism about his poetic skill, he wrote a ghazal “Itna to zindagi mein kisi ki khalal pade”, which was so successful that legendary singer Begum Akhter sang it afterward. As he grew older, his rebellious spirit led him to a political journey; he joined the Communist Party at the age of 19 and through times he got all sorts of encouragement from his comrades. Accompanied by his peers like Pirzada Qasim and Jon Elia, he attended many memorable mushairas— poetic symposiums for conveying intense poetic expressions, and entertained the audience with his enthralling performances.
Consequently, he became a quintessential poet of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA)—a commanding force in contemporary Urdu literature. Though, like most Urdu poets, he also started his poetic journey as a romantic poet, he was vocal against all sorts of oppression and injustice throughout his life.
Among his numerous works Jhankar—his first collection of poems—was published in 1943. His other poetry volumes include Akhir – e – Shab, Awara Sajde, Sarmaya, Doosra Banwas, and Chuni Hui Shayri.
As a lyricist and songwriter, he wrote for many films, which he started for financial need. But he will be remembered mostly for his works in critically acclaimed films like Kaagaz ke Phool (1959), Haqeeqat (1964), Heer Raanjha (1970), and Garam Hawa (1974).
Kaifi Azmi, who is also known as a philanthropist, received many prestigious awards including Padma Shri (1974), one of India’s highest civilian honors; Sahitya Akademi Award (1975) for his poetry anthology Awara Sajde, and shortly before his demise, he got India’s highest literary honor the Sahitya Akademi fellowship in April 2002.