Kaifi Azmi (Urdu: کیفی اعظمی, Hindi:) (1919 - May 10, 2002) was an Urdu and Hindi lyricist, poet and songwriter.
Kaifi Azmi was born as Syed Athar Hussain Rizvi into a family of landlords in the small village 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.
At age eleven, Kaifi Azmi wrote his first ghazal Itna To Zindagi Mein Kisi Ki Khalal Pade and 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 completed a ghazal. This particular ghazal was to become a rage in undivided India and it was immortalized as it was sung by legendary ghazal singer, Begum Akhtar.
Kaifi 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.He had expressed his view towards social system of our country at that time.In the Flim called "Payasa" he wrote a song which also made Mr. Jawahar Lal Nehru,Prime Minister Of India that time, to feel a pain.Some of the lines of this poetry were very significant in the consequence of our social system.
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 started to win great acclaim as a poet and became a member of Progressive Writers' Movement of India.
At the age of twenty-four, he 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 zamindar. 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 Bombay, he joined Ali Sardar Jafri in writing for the party’s paper, Qaumi Jung.
In 1947, he visited Hyderabad to participate in a mushaira. There he met, fell in love with and married a beautiful woman named Shaukat. Shaukat Kaifi later became a renowned actress in theatre and films. They had two children together, Shabana Azmi (b. 1950), a renowned actress of Indian cinema and Baba Azmi, a noted cameraman.
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 clichés and metaphors. However, his association with the Progressive Writers' Movement and Communist Party made him embark on the path of socially conscious poetry.
In his poetry, he highlights the exploitation of the subaltern masses and through them he conveys a message of the creation of a just social order by dismantling the existing one. Yet, his poetry cannot be called plain propaganda. It has its own merits; intensity of emotions, in particular, and the spirit of sympathy and compassion towards the disadvantaged section of society, are the hallmark of his poetry. His poems are also notable for their rich imagery and in this respect, his contribution to Urdu poetry can hardly be overstated.
Kaifi’s first collection of poems, Jhankar was published in 1943. His important works including anthologies of poetry, were Aakhir-e-Shab, Sarmaya, Awaara Sajde, Kaifiyaat, Nai Gulistan, an anthology of articles he wrote for Urdu Blitz, Meri Awaaz Suno, a selection of his film lyrics, and the script of Heer Ranjha in Devanagari.
His best known poems are Aurat, Makaan,Daaera,Saanp, and Bahuroopni. " Kar chale hum fida jan-o-tan sathion.