A great poet bids goodbye
Urdu literary giant Kaifi Azmi died on Friday, 10 May, in Mumbai. He was 87.
Kaifi Azmi is widely considered one of India's greatest film lyricists. He was respected in Urdu poetry circles also.
He was a committed leftist, perhaps more so than Sahir Ludhianvi and Majrooh Sultanpuri. He seemed indifferent to success in films. His social and secular concerns placed him at a great distance from assembly-line lyricists. "He was today's Mirza Ghalib," music composer Khayyam said in a tribute.
Azmi had been ailing for some years. He died at Jaslok Hospital at 7 a.m.
His actress-daughter Shabana is an MP, and his son, Baba, is a cinematographer with films like Mr India and Tezaab to his credit.
Kaifi Azmi was an activist-poet, and his work in public life was recognised in unexpected ways, as when the Uttar Pradesh government named a stretch of an important highway after him. He spent all his earnings on his village Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, where he founded a school and a hospital.
Filmmaker Guru Dutt, who had a legendary ear for poetry, got Azmi to write for almost all his films.
Waqt ne kiya, kya hasin sitam, a melancholic contemplation of the changes wrought by time, became one of the biggest hits of the Azmi-Dutt team.
Azmi wrote songs like Yeh duniya yeh mehfil for Heer Ranjha, an experimental film done entirely in verse. (Vikram Seth attempted something similar in the novel form, writing an entire book in sonnets).
Vijay Anand's under-production Jaana Na Dil Se Door has songs by Azmi.
Azmi was associated with the Indian People's Theatre Association and was an active member of the Communist Party of India, which he joined when he was 19.
He arrived in Mumbai in 1943, when the Communist Party of India opened its head office in the city. He edited an Urdu newspaper called Mazdoor Mohalla. In 1948, Azmi started his career as a lyricist with Shaid Latif's Buzdil.
Azmi also wrote dialogues for Shyam Benegal's Manthan and M S Sathyu's Garam Hawa.
Azmi's poetry had a romantic, mystical appeal, and never degenerated into propaganda or dumb verse. For instance, in his Anupama number Kuch dil ne kaha, kuch bhi nahin, the poem withdraws from what the character says, and then says more in ellipses.
Some Kaifi Azmi gems:
Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam (Kaagaz ke Phool)
Chalte chalte yun hi koi mil gaya tha (Pakeezah)
Kar chale hum fida jaan-o-tan saathiyo (Haqeeqat)
Ye duniya ye mehfil (Heer Ranjha)
Tum itna jo muskura rahi ho (Arth)
Dhire dhire machal aye dile beqarar (Anupama)
Looking for lyrics? Lots at: http://homepage.mac.com/itrans/
Post-production is being done in Kolkata on a project that has Tagore being played by a full-fledged orchestra.
The orchestra -- bringing to mind the grand orchestras of the West -- comprises 40 violins, seven cellos, violas, double bass, piano, metal and bamboo flutes, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, English horn, trumpet, saxophone, trombone, tuba, timpani, cymbals, triangles, gong, and other instruments.
It has been rehearsing and recording a symphony since November 1998.
Tagore was inspired by what he called the "romantic" aspect of European classical music. He adapted this mood into his songs. He was inspired equally by the Hindustani ragas, mendicant songs and south Indian kritis.
In a dialogue with Einstein, Tagore said, "Melody and harmony are like lines and colours in pictures. A simple picture may be completely beautiful; the introduction of colour may make it vague and insignificant. Yet, colour may, by combination with lines, create great pictures, so long as it does not smother and destroy their value."
The symphonic work is tentatively called Dance Of The Seasons.
Published on 11 May 2002
to the editor