Capturing Kaifi Azmi’s essence

Book: Kaifiyat: Verses on Love and Women

Author: by Kaifi Azmi (Author), Rakhshanda Jalil (Translator)

Publisher: Penguin Viking

Pages: 200; Price: Rs 499

Translation is the art of expressing an author’s intended meaning in another language. And it truly is an art. And writer, critic and literary historian, Rakhshanda Jalil is an adept exponent of this art form as is evident in Kaifiyat.

But before we talk of the poems, let us talk of the foreword and afterword. While the foreword is by his daughter and actor, Shabana Azmi, the afterword is by his wife, theatre and film veteran Shaukat Azmi. The two paint an intimate picture of Kaifi, as a father and husband. Both Shaukat and Shabana Azmi fondly remember Kaifi.

The foreword shows us the beautiful and evolving relation between a father and daughter, it also reveals a great deal about Kaifi’s ideology, his nature and family life. Shabana says, “He is a rare poet who practised what he preached. There is no dichotomy in his life between word and action.”

The afterword describes the 55-year bond that Shaukat Azmi shared with the poet. She calls him “not just my husband, he was my friend”. When she writes, “he would reach out for his cup with trembling hands and look at me in companionship... These were the most cherished moments of my day,” it makes you believe in love.

Kaifi Azmi’s work has been translated before and people will continue to interpret it to share with the world in the future too. But among all those, Jalil’s effort needs to be appreciated because she manages to use beautifully expressive English words to explain the Urdu original. She translates without losing the ethos, feeling and essence of the original and thus ensures that even people unfamiliar with Urdu will not be led astray by the translation.

The book is full of many of Kaifi Azmi’s gems and some of his memorable lyrics from Bollywood also. But it brings together an understanding of his outlook on love and women. As the author says in her introduction, “Love and romance run like wrap through the woof of politics and protest in Kaifi’s poetry...There is growth and movement in Kaifi’s portrayal of women...Taken together, they give new meaning to the ‘male gaze’, how a man views a woman.”

The author may have said that a translation is like looking at the ‘wrong’ side of a carpet, but her work here is as close to the original as possible. And for that she should take a bow.