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Seven poems by Kaifi Azmi

  • Published at 09:54 am July 13th, 2019


Translated by Sudeep Sen

Kaifi Azmi is a major Urdu poet in India who introduced Urdu literature to Indian cinema. He has written many ghazals, and worked as a lyricist, writer and actor in Indian film. He received the Padma Shri, Sahitya Akademi Award for Urdu (1975) for his collection Awaara Sajde and Sahitya Akademi Fellowship for lifetime achievement (2002). He also won the National Film Award for Best Lyrics (1970) for the film Saat Hindustani

One kiss (Ek bosa) 

The moment I kiss these beautiful eyes—

a hundred lamps in the darkness—glow, glitter.

What flowers, what buds, what moon, what stars—

all my rivals—bow at your feet—head lowered.

They begin their dance—the idols of Ajanta,

as the long close-lipped caves start to sing.

Flowers bloom in unkempt wilted gardens 

on the thirst-wrenched earth—clouds collect, hover.

Momentarily, the world relinquishes cruelty—

momentarily, all stones start to smile.

One moment (Ek lamha) 

What we call life, is but a few moments— 

and within them that one moment—

when a pair of expressive eyes

look up from a teacup 

and drown in the heart—

drowning, say: 

today, you should keep your silence—  

today, I will keep mine.

Let us just sit,

hand in hand

with our mutual gift of grief,

with our shared heat of emotions. 

Who knows in this moment

on some distant mountain—

the snow might start to melt. 

Courage (Hausla) 

You are the sun—don’t hide behind clouds

You are the moon—don’t stop shinning

You are a coquette—don’t subdue your desire

You are lightning—don’t stop sparking

As yet, love hasn’t conceded defeat—

As yet, don’t give up on love— 

Two nights (Do raatein) 

Jumbled-confused emotions, ask not about them.

Scared-frightened favors, ask not for them.

Again and again her benevolence.

Timidly, furtively, arriving at my bed 

wanting to explain to me who knows what all—

and then being overcome, by shyness.

How fleeting the night was, do not ask.

Let us see whether or not, my sighs bear fruit.

Let us see whether or not, this night will pass.

Scattered clouds hang aimlessly.

Her manner is subdued and scared. 

A few tears have appeared on her cheek—

and a few, balanced on her lashes. 

Now God only knows whether or not, morning will come.

Calm ocean (Pursukoon samandar) 

Tired, defeated ocean—why aren’t you agitated?

Why aren’t you angry?

Breaking the banks—why don’t you overflow?

Why don’t you rise?

Why aren’t you angry?

On your shores lie shanties born of oppression

By builders who have ruined homes.

These illegal shanties—why don’t you erase them?

Why aren’t you agitated?

Why aren’t you angry?

You have no waves, crests or sound—

The helpless, oppressed world looks at you.

Why don’t you fret-and-foam?

Why aren’t you angry?

Why aren’t you agitated?

Tired, defeated ocean—why aren’t you agitated?

Why aren’t you angry?

Custom of giving (Dastoor-e bakshish) 

The sea overflows for some—for others, the goblet is empty.

What times are these, what unfair apportioning—o wine-bearer? 

You haven’t grasped yet, the thirst-ridden’s disposition—

Your nature of giving, must change—o wine-bearer! 

Renewal (Tajdeed) 

Tumult, zeal, commotion, yearning—

all these deserted me, when she left.

I was certain now, there’d be no laughter, no tears.

I’d already laughed aloud, cried aloud. 

Someone, today, stretching her limbs 

cast rings of silken-light around my sight.

Tumult, zeal, commotion, yearning—

these same sparks, smiled once again.

Smile (Tabassum) 

The bud—light of this garden’s eyes, 

night’s pearl, spring garden’s radiance— 

soft, delicate, blooming, rosy—

shiny, innocent, quiet, mischievous—

once showered her myriad charms on me.

Alas, I erased this joyful, beautiful vision.

I extended my desirous hands.

Hidden within the petals, a spark

that burnt my hands. 

Still, the bud—smiled at me. 

Second storm (Doosra toofan) 

And then such a night arrived

when taverns closed 

and fire-temples stayed unlit. 

He, who opposed taverns and temples— 

the dissenter, the writer—

he, who always fought against the divine will

for life 

who for the sake of humanity,

challenged God’s will— 

he, who always fought—fell quiet one day, 

masking his face with his own book, falling asleep.

However, his pen—

which bears a hundred names

and has a hundred tasks—

continues fighting, as before;

continues moving, as before—

sometimes in one hand,

sometimes in another.

Moving along, several fingers got bent—

and some fingers weaving

daily, new conspiracies—

daily, new nooses—

and then hung him on a scaffold. 

Skies didn’t send any consolations,

he was not called to the heavens.

From his broken ribs 

blood trickled, dripped in such a way—

the ropes burnt away,

the conspiracies rotted away.

This isn’t an episode from Noah’s age,

but it is from the present day.

On his tongue’s tip, he raised the ocean

and decanted it into the wind.

On his beak’s tip, he picked up the earth

and flung it into the void.

Jungles and villages trembled,

the oceans trembled,

unintelligent people trembled,

intelligent people trembled.

This is not a storm that drowns the earth—

instead, the submerged emerges.

Advice (Mashvarey) 


‘This storm, this cyclone, this fast current—

the crackling show, thunderous scenes,

dark vastness, heaving ocean—

no guiding light, no stars in the firmament—

the traveler stood still, motionless, disillusioned.’


‘For him, the companion; for him, the shore’s rim—

who caught in a storm-flood, attempts to swim—

dark vastness, heaving ocean—

these currents will keep beating their heads in—

how far will you go, sticking to the shore’s rim?’

Celebration of love (Pyar Ka Jashn) 

Celebration of love—we must rejoice in a new way.

Sadness in any heart—this sadness mustn’t stay.

On trembling lips, a promise of fidelity—bravo, I say?

Your unsure feet, see where they’ve carried you—bravo, I say?

In my home, your face all lit—bravo, I say?

In every home—I must light a lamp, today.

The soul shies away—seeing smoke masking every face.

Bashfully-abash—on my lips, a laugh appears.

Ecstasy of our meeting—transforms into torment.

If we are to laugh—we must help others to laugh.

In your sleep-asleep eyes—chalice spills over.

Your lost-distracted glances—contain missives of love.

Thirst on my lips—your lips, my reward.

Will I be rewarded—or will I have to steal it away?

Around my neck, your arms—a sandalwood garland.

Awhile back, these eyes, tearful—now, intoxicated.

Did I not say—spring will enter my house too? 

Only condition—the first to enter, will be you!

The poems have been excerpted from Kaifi Azmi: Poems | Nazms: New & Selected Poems (Bloomsbury UK)

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