This bilingual selection, brilliantly translated, published on the occasion of Kaifi Azmi's eighty-first birthday, brings to a wider audience the wisdom and lyricism of Azmi's poetry.
One of the finest Urdu poets of the subcontinent, Kaifi Azmi has borne witness to an entire era of social change. Born in 1918 in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, in a Zamindar family, Azmi wrote his first poem at the age of eleven. He joined the Communist Party when he was nineteen, and wrote for the Party paper Quami Jung. Subsequently, he moved to Bombay, and wrote his first lyric for the film Buzdil, directed by Shahid Latif. A member of the Progressive Writers' movement, Azmi has been an active spokesperson for several workers' unions and works passionately to rectify social injustices even today.
This richness of experience and maturity of perspective is captured in his poem, which reflects the many aspects of Azmi - man, lover, activist and poet. Some of his best verses are about the plight of the exploited, like the famous 'Makaan' which highlights a system where the poor, homeless, footpath dwellers build palaces for the rich to live in. At the other end of the spectrum are his love poems, including the memorable lyrics for films - among them, 'Waqt ne kiya..' - that haunt the reader with their tenderness and contained passion, proving him to be a master at conveying the various nuances of love. Azmi's preoccupation with the expert handling of such disparate themes are indicative as much of his zest for life as his sincerity and honesty of experience.
A member of the Indian Foreign Service, Pavan K Varma has been posted in Bulgaria, Russia and in New York, at the Indian Mission to the United Nations. He has been press Secretary to the President of India and is currently joint Secretary, Africa, in the Ministry of External Affairs.
Besides the best-selling The Great Indian Middle Class, he is the author of Ghalib: The Man, The Times and Krishna: The Playful Divine.
(4 out of 5)
Reviewer: Debotri Dhar from New Delhi, India
A poet with a rich, evocative style of writing that cuts deftly across cities, lives, love's ardour, the waxing and waning of patriotism, the dull ache of being a witness to the lament of humanity...he stands out as an apostle of sensitivity, a literary giant. In short, Kaifi Azmi forces one to think.
So does Pavan Varma.
This collection of poems has been well translated, at many places magically preserving the beauty and exactness of the original rhetoric. Even when the meaning has been marginally altered owing to the rigours of rhyme and metre, there is no detraction from the essence. The translations have been critisised as being a pale shadow of the original. Largely untrue.
Not withstanding the arduousness of the task of translating exquisite poetry in an Indian language into English, the translator has created a harmonious blend of the unique styles and structures, idioms and metaphors, of both. To quote,
"Sometimes an obstruction, sometimes a dispersion/the world perhaps awaits its own destruction/ruins echo an answer, whoever we call/the past seems to hold each one in thrall…
A laudable effort in trying to bring to an essentially non-Urdu speaking audience the timeless, ageless beauty of the language.