Kaifi Azmi was an Urdu and Hindi lyricist, poet and songwriter.
Early life of Kaifi Azmi
Kaifi Azmi was born as Akhtar Hussain Rizvi into a family of landlords in the small town of Mejwaan, in the district of Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh. His father, Syed Fateh Hussain Rizvi, though a landlord, took up employment first in a small native state called Balharah as a tahsildar and later, he worked in other areas of Uttar Pradesh. He decided to send his sons to schools imparting modern education, including English, against the stiff opposition of his relatives. However, Azmi could not get this opportunity because his elders wanted him to become a theologian. He was admitted to Sultan-ul-Madaris, a reputed seminary in Lucknow. However, his nonconformist nature created many problems for the authorities of the seminary. He formed a Students’ Union and asked all the students to go on strike to get their demands fulfilled. The strike continued for a year and a half. Though the strike was called off, he was expelled from the seminary. This was the end of his elder’s dream of training him to become a theologian. Azmi could not seek modern education but he passed various examinations in Lucknow and of Allahabad universities that helped him acquire command over Arabic, Persian and Urdu.
Writing and marriage of Kaifi Azmi
During this period, the leading progressive writers of Lucknow noticed him. They were very impressed by his leadership qualities. They also saw in him a budding poet and extended all possible encouragement towards him. Consequently, Azmi began to win great acclaim as a poet. His initiation into poetry was even more interesting. At the age of eleven, he somehow managed to get himself invited to a Mushaira and over there, he recited a ghazal, rather a couplet of the ghazal which was very much appreciated by the President of the Mushaira, Mani Jaisi, but most of the people, including his father, thought he recited his elder brother’s ghazal. When his elder brother denied it, his father and his clerk decided to test his poetic talent. They gave him one of the lines of a couplet and asked him to write a ghazal in the same meter and rhyme. Azmi accepted the challenge and within no time, he completed a ghazal.
This particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India and it was sung by none other than the legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar. He, however, abandoned his studies of Persian and Urdu during the Quit India agitations in 1942 and shortly thereafter became a full time Marxist when he accepted membership of the Communist Party of India in 1943. At the age of 24, he joined the Communist Party and started activities in the textile mill areas of Kanpur. As a full time worker, he left his life of comfort, though he was the son of a zamindaar. He was asked to shift his base to Bombay, work amongst the workers and start party work with a lot of zeal and enthusiasm and at the same time would attend Mushairas in different parts of India. In 1947, he reached Hyderabad to participate in a Mushaira. There he met a beautiful woman named Shaukat, the two fell in love and were married. Shaukat Kaifi later became a renowned actress in theatre and films. They had two children together. They are Shabana Azmi (b. 1950), a renowned actress of Indian cinema and Baba Azmi, a film cameraman.
Kaifi Azmi Poetry
Like most of the Urdu poets, Azmi began as a ghazal writer, cramming his poetry with the repeated themes of love and romance in a style that was replete with clich