“We usually hear people say that Hindi is the language of Hindus and Urdu is the language of Muslims. A language cannot belong to a religion,” Shabana Azmi told a packed audience at the Jaipur Literature Festival, while discussing the role of language and poetry in the cultural discourse of a nation.
“Urdu belongs to everyone,” the Bollywood actor said to an audience of all ages that appreciated the nuance of her comment with a spontaneous round of applause.
Shabana was emotional while talking about the legacy of her father – Kaifi Azmi – who used poetry to promote the equality of women – way back in the 1930s.
Shabana was speaking in a session titled “Jan Nisar and Kaifi” along with her lyricist and writer husband Javed Akhtar (son of writer Jan Nisar), and diplomat-turned-author Pavan K Varma, who has translated Kaifi Azmi’s work in English.
The conversation moved to the role of Urdu poets in the pre-independence era. It is interesting to note that many Urdu poets in the early 20th century were revolutionary poets. Of course, there were romantic poets too. But a few crossed the line or were seen to be doing both, as the ‘Progressive Writers’ Movement’ shaped up in the 1930s.
The famous freedom-slogan “Inquilab Zindabad” (Long Live the Revolution!”) which was first used by Bhagat Singh after bombing the Central Assembly in Delhi in 1929 and is since used in many Bollywood movies, was in fact conceived by Urdu poet Hasrat Mohani who has also famously written the legendary romantic song “Chupke
“I always remember my father as a revolutionary writer,” Shabana said
Kaifi played a major role in the Progressive Writers’ Movement (in Urdu: Anjuman Tarraqi Pasand Mussanafin-e-Hind), which was started in London when a few Urdu writers met there. Then they came to India in 1935 and met writers here in Lucknow. The thought behind the movement was that let our writing not be just about romance but also about social issues.
“I feel this movement needs to be revived,” said Shabana.
Shabana and Javed are keen to preserve the legacy of their legendary fathers – Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi –
by compiling their literature in two, separate anthologies.