Sunday 16 June 2013

My father Kaifi Azmi, my hero

“Earliest memory of Abba…Of him sitting  on a  writing table  in   his kurta-pyjama  smoking incessantly and writing  till the wee hours of  the morning. As a child I was convinced a poet was a euphemism for someone who didn’t have any work. Daddys were supposed to put  on trousers, shirts and  ties and go out to work. In fact  when  people would ask me  what my father did I said he  was a  businessman and  quickly changed the topic….Oh , the follies of innocence…My father was  a   really gorgeous looking man  with  this beautiful voice.  People don’t know this, but he had a tremendous sense of humour. I remember once I was putting eye-drops in his tiny eyes. The drops kept falling all over his face.  He told me about this inept prince who was taught archery and who broke everything in  the house during practice.  Then he said, ‘Put the drops in my ears they’ll   go in my eyes.’ He said such   lines with a poker face.  He always made digs at  the strange procedure in  our films where  tunes came   first and lyrics were  written  into  them later. ‘It’s like first digging a grave and then trying to fit a corpse into it. But I constantly keep   fitting the corpse into the grave, so everyone thinks I’m a good lyricist’ he said…. You know I took my father for granted, as all children tend to. But as a poet he continues to overwhelm me  each day even four years after  his death. Whether it was his poem Makaan or Aurat…they’ve been a great source of inspiration. My concern  for slum-dwellers started with my father’s poem Makaan which  talks of  the irony of  the construction worker who builds  a building with his sweat and blood  but isn’t allowed  to   enter  it.”
Shabana pauses.  “In   Hindi cinema, along with Sahir, Majrooh, Jaan Nissar Akhtar and Shailendra, my father raised the standards of film lyrics. They were often deceptively conversational--Kuch dil ne kaha…..kuch bhi nahin….As  a film lyricist he was a mixture  of  simplicity and poeticality. Take these lines Kissi  ka na  ho jiss pe saaya mujheaisi din  aisi  raat do/ Main manzil to khud dhoond loongi mere haath main zaraa apna haath do/ Qadam-do-qadam tum mera saath  do….And when Lataji sang  these lines by my father….what can be said? You know what was exceptional about my father? He never spoke at home  about  his work.”
“My most favourite Kaifi Azmi lyrics? Hmmmmm… Koi kaise yeh bataaye ke wohtanha kyon hai/who jo apna tha who aur kisika kyon  hai/yehi duniya hai to phir aisi yeh duniya kyon  hai/yehi hota hai to aakhir yehi hota kyon hai?…The simplicity of  these  lines kill me.  Imagine, a spouse-deserted woman (in the film Arth) being faced with these lines. That sense of commitment which artistes of my father’s generation had has been missing. But slowly it’s coming my film fraternity. I like it when film people come out to involve themselves with social issues. I find it very strange when people say, how could Aamir Khan have taken up an issue without knowing the nitty-gritty of it?  Arrey when Gandhiji was thrown off the train in South Africa he responded emotionally. When I went on a hunger strike twenty years ago on behalf of slum-dwellers I didn’t know the issues as well as I do today. I come from a background where my parents believe art is an instrument of social change.  At a time when my father could’ve reveled in the luxury of his success in the film industry he chose to go back to his village in Azamgarh to work  on  its development. Imagine a man paralyzed for thirty years making his village into a place of progress singlehandedly. One day I asked him if he feels frustrated when change doesn’t happen as speedily as he’d have liked. He told me we must all be prepared for  that change  to not happen in  our lifetime.  This to me, is the one mantra that I’ve taken from my father.  I don’t look for instant results at all. That’s why I couldn’t be a politician.”
If you ask me  who among contemporary  lyricists has inherited  my father’s legacy I’d say my  husband Javed Akhtar. Abba himself used to say this.  They both have this amazing vocabulary  which  if they wanted, they could flaunt  generously. Still they both keep their poetry simple.  There was never a word in Urdu that my father couldn’t give me  the meaning of.  I told Amit(Bachchan)  this. And he said, ‘My father could do this in both English and   Hindi.’ Can you imagine!  To this day it’s a big void in my life that I can’t  write Urdu, though I can read it. It’s something I have to do. Javed keeps telling me I’ve my father’s restless spirit.  But if I’m cleaning a cupboard that’s relaxation for me, though Javed doesn’t agree.”
I want to share an incident with you about Abba.  “The last time he ever got out of bed was 14 January 2002 which was his birthday. I had gone down to Mijima(our village in Azamgarh) to meet him. From early morning I had been sitting waiting for him to finish meeting all the villagers.  Finally my father hauled himself out of bed and asked my mother for some money.  No one had the guts to ask this very old and frail man where he was going   off to with his man-Friday.  Forty-five minutes later he came back, all drained out. He looks at me and says, ‘Mere gaon wale tumhara subah se bheja chaat rahen hai  na? Main apne chidiya ke liya khaas taur se wohsamose lekar aaya hoon jo ussey bahut pasand hai.’ That was the last  time he moved out of bed. When Abba  passed away I realized nothing prepares you for  the loss of a  parent…NOTHING!  I was completely  devastated. But now four years later I feel his spirit envelopes me like the air I breathe. I remember him with celebration. I do not remember him with sorrow….My brother Baba Javed, his poem ‘Ajeeb Aadmi’ on my father…these have helped me heal.”
“My mother was a remarkable companion to my father. It was an amazing relationship. I was attracted to Javed because  he was exactly like my father. In getting to know Javed I got to know my father.  Like Abba, Javed is a feminist.  My father had this complete dependence on domestic matters on  my mother . Even I’ve to buy all the clothes and shoes for Javed. Likewise the tailor who stitched my father’s kurta-pyjamas  never saw his face. Neither Abba  and Javed have seen the kitchen in the house. Nor can they fix anything around  the  house. But  both can do anything  if they set their heart  on  it. Javed fights to win. I fight to  play the game…..My brother Baba is an extreme introvert. He shared an extremely deep relationship with my father.  Baba’s wife Tanvi who’s the most talkative person in  the world would run out of the room when Abba  and Baba were together. They just shared silences.  Baba is now writing a script which he’ll direct. In that script you can see the prodigal son return. Abba was everything to me.  I continue with his good work in our village. He was my comrade, I remember when I went on my padyatra from Delhi to Meerut.  There was so much tension. But when I went to my father he caught my face in his hands and said, ‘Meri bahadur beti jaa rahi hai? Jao tumhein kuch nahin hoga. Sirf kaamyab hoke lautogi.’ It was like a gust of oxygen  pumped into me. Ours was an open  house during Abba. It continues to be so. My reference point  and the choices in life will always  come  from him,  his poetry, work, life and courage.”

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