Did Kaifi Azmi reply to Faiz Ahmad Faiz with Aurat?

Story by  Saquib Salim | Posted by  Aasha Khosa | Date 28-05-2024
Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ghulam Rabbani Taban (Left to right).jpg
Kaifi Azmi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ghulam Rabbani Taban (Left to right).jpg


Saquib Salim

Aurat, a poem by Kaifi Azmi in the early 1940s, is considered an anthem of feminist expression in the Urdu language. “Uth merii jaan mere saath hii chalnaa hai tujhe” (Arise, my love, for now, you must march with me) breaks the age-old conventions of women being inferior and therefore not suited to ‘manly’ tasks like war. Kaifi asks women to walk along with men at every step.

A Slice Of History

The poet asks women to break the shackles like marriage that bind their lives to men’s in case it blocs their freedom. This was a radical idea, for no writer had gone so far as to champion gender equality.

Though Kaifi had never directly mentioned Faiz Ahmad Faiz, he had hinted that the poem was his reply to his popular poem, “Mujhse pehli si muhabbat meri mahbub na maang” (My beloved, don’t ask for the love like I used to). Faiz's poem was perceived by the public as a ,message that men should not waste their time on romance and sexual pleasures in the times of war. 

Written in the late 1930s, when World War II was being fought, he believed that men should focus on war and that love could wait. It must be noted that Faiz had joined the army for the War. He declares, “Aur bhi dukh hain zamane me muhabbat ke siva, Rahate aur bhi hain vasl ki rahat ke siva” (There are sorrows other than love, There are comforts other than sexual or romantic union). 

The message was clear. Women should wait for the men to return from the war and make love to them and it was the time of revolution and men were duty bound for the War.

This thought disturbed Kaifi. He believed that man and woman share more than sexual companionship. A woman, in his view, is more than a wife, sister, or mother. How can a society think of a revolution if half its population doesn’t will not join the struggle? He felt women were comrades in arms and not just lovers waiting for the soldiers. 

Kaifi recalled, “At that time (in the early 1940s) several of our poets were writing poems to the effect that they were going to war to liberate the country. This is not the time to love, after coming back from the War, we will love in leisure. My point of view is completely different. What I believed or still believe is contained in this poem.”

Faiz Ahmad Faiz with Sajjad Zaheer

Sajjad Zaheer, one of the founding members of the Progressive Writers’ Association (PWA), while writing on Kaifi’s poetry showed his displeasure at the writers who left Communism after becoming famous. He also wrote that Aurat was a revolutionary idea far ahead of other revolutionary writers who wrote about women.

Sajjad wrote, “Kaifi is miles away from those religious and traditional ideas which have been designed to leave a woman by excusing, ‘Where will you go with me in this struggle?’ What can be more disgraceful for women? Contrary to this, Kaifi says - Arise, my love, for now, you must march with me.”

The poem became an anthem of the feminist movement. With simplified vocabulary it was used as a song in Tamanna, the 1997 Bollywood film, and was picturized on Manoj Vajpayee, Pooja Bhatt, and Paresh Rawal. 

Kaifi declares: 

“zindagii jehad mein hai sabr ke qaabuu mein nahiin

nabz-e-hastii kaa lahuu kaampte aansuu mein nahii

urne khulne mein hai nikhat kham-e-gesu mein nahiin

jannat aik aur hai jo mard ke pahluu mein nahiin

uskii aazaad ravish par bhii machalnaa hai tujhe

uth merii jaan mere saath hii chalnaa hai tujhe”

(Patience will not help you struggle through life

Blood, not tears, sustains the pulse of life

You will fly when you’re free and not ensnared by love

Heaven is not just in the arms of the man you love

Walk unfettered on the path of freedom with me

Arise, my love, for now you must march with me)

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Kaifi’s opposition to the idea “Mujhse pehli si muhabbat meri mahbub na mang” (My beloved don’t ask for the love like I used to) comes with “yeh bhii ek qaid hii hai, qaid-e-muhabbat se nikal” (come out of the bondage of love, for this too is a bondage).