Shabana Azmi on father Kaifi Azmi: He didn't inconvenience his family for the larger picture

Updated: Jan 11, 2019, 16:45 IST | Snigdha Hasan | Mumbai

Ahead of a musical tribute to commemorate Kaifi Azmi's birth centenary, Shabana Azmi remembers the poet, activist and father

Shabana Azmi with father Kaifi Azmi
Shabana Azmi with father Kaifi Azmi

The father-daughter bond is a special one. From a protector fiercely guarding his child to a confidant who a teenager can walk up to without a worry, the relationship changes form, only to grow deeper with age. When celebrated poet and activist Kaifi Azmi passed away in 2002, daughter Shabana Azmi lost a friend, philosopher and guide. But his poems remain the lighthouses that guide the veteran actor in her work with women, the homeless and against communalism.

So, when it comes to celebrating the legend, it is his words that Shabana, and husband and lyricist Javed Akhtar turn to. On Azmi's 10th death anniversary, the couple staged Kaifi Aur Main, on his life and works seen through the eyes of his wife and noted actor, Shaukat Kaifi. And for his birth centenary, which falls on January 14, they will be presenting his verses in a unique avatar at an event called Raag Shayari.

Javed Akhtar
Javed Akhtar

"Kaifi was a multifaceted person; he was a poet, writer, theatre person, social activist. But his primary identity is that of a poet. Javed felt we should make his poetry more accessible by having it sung by Shankar [Mahadevan], interpreted by Zakir [Hussain] on the tabla, with Javed reciting the original and I reciting the English translations," says Shabana. The tribute was conceptualised by Akhtar, and has been directed by Feroz Abbas Khan. "I was clear from the start that only Feroz could put this together, and I am very grateful to Zakir and Shankar for coming on board, no questions asked," she adds.

As part of the year-long celebrations, events will be held across India and abroad, including mushairas, seminars, book releases, performances of Kaifi Aur Main, retrospectives of his films, and a painting competition for children at Kaifi Azmi park in Juhu on January 12. "The Delhi government has already done a two-day event that drew such huge crowds that a lot of my friends had to turn back," Shabana informs.

Zakir Hussain
Zakir Hussain

When asked about how she remembers Azmi as a father, she says, "As a father, I take Abba for granted. I often read accounts of public personalities who are large-hearted and generous, but difficult to deal with in their private lives. But not Kaifi. He didn't inconvenience his family for the 'larger picture'. He was always available to us. I would barge into his room when he was writing, to ask some banal question and he would put his pen down and answer without a trace of annoyance at being disturbed. He would patiently sit with Mummy, giving her cues for a play she was rehearsing." She also recalls how he got her brother and cinematographer Baba Azmi a job as an intern with acclaimed filmmaker Chetan Anand. "[He did] Normal things that fathers do, but are exempted from when they are committed to the greater common good," she adds.

Azmi's work as a poet and activist continues to overwhelm her. "He believed art should be used as an instrument for social change. There was never any dichotomy between his words and action. Once he set his mind to something, nothing could deter him till he achieved his goal. He never exulted in praise and would be on to the next task the minute he completed one. He was a man in a hurry," she says.

Shankar Mahadevan
Shankar Mahadevan

Had he been alive today, what would he make of the current situation in India? "He was an optimist and believed strongly in the power of resistance and jan andolan. He would be up there on the streets in his wheelchair rallying people to become active participants in the democratic process," the proud daughter says, remembering lines from one of his poems, "Honton ko seeke dekhiye pachhtaiyega aap/Hungamein jaag uthate hain aksar ghutan ke baad [If you keep mum today, you'd regret it/Upheavals are often born out of suffocation]."

On January 13 (Tata Theatre, NCPA); January 14 (St Andrew's Auditorium, Bandra West), 7 pm
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