Mumbai: Sayyid Akhtar Hussein Rizvi, better known by his pen name Kaifi Azmi was an Indian Urdu poet who was born on January 14 in 1919 at Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh. 14th January 2019 marks the birth centenary of Kaifi Azmi Saheb. He is remembered as the one who brought Urdu literature to Indian motion pictures.
The ground of Mastan Talaab was ablaze with gusty red flags. The night had travelled way past the midnight stroke. Dew had started falling and freezing the ground beneath yet, not a soul was ready to move an inch.
The windows and balconies of the buildings across the street were besieged with hundreds of headscarves and shawl covered heads, all staring in the same direction, looking as if, they were a slice of a frozen canvas. All roads leading to the ground were swarmed with people, so much so that no breathing space remained.
In that era the rallies of communist party were a gala affair (those were the times!). The orators dealt with such roar and breeze that the words transformed themselves into magic spells. I sat on a dwarfed chair pasted right below the stage taking down notes of the sermon with my knackered pen. My Fingers moved with all the might they had.
Suddenly, the gentleman, on the dias, fist punching the air, controlling the bustling audience, went quiet. The crowd also rustled with excitement. Many stood with their eyes pinned to the back of the stage in expectation. A head emerged first shadowing the wooden staircase pitched behind the stage. Then appeared the remaining figure – ruffled long hair, perspiring face, big eyes crimsoned with tiredness – draped in a loose white kurta and wide bottomed laknawi pyjama.
He was the driving soul of Indian People’s Theatre Association. It wasn’t because IPTA was a face of progressive movement or because it had a deep imprint of communist ideology – in truth, Kaifi sahab had personal interest in drama. He used to say, a couplet or verse impresses only those who can read but a drama reaches even those who can neither read nor write. The effects are also far reaching and long lasting.
Similar to current times, that era too had a handful of good theatre halls and even fewer had decent facilities to host a play. But then the cause for which IPTA came into existence, no obstacle could be big enough to halt its path. In fact, IPTA people were never confined to the four walls of a theatre hall. Whether it was an open ground, a mill compound or a narrow cul-de-sac, the IPTA performed unabashedly.
IPTA people were neither affluent nor did the party provide any monetary support. Hence, it has always been a drama company run by the poor, of the poor and for the poor. The humble souls never managed to book a theatre without any drama. But then whatever place they managed to arrange, they transformed it into a spectacle.