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“Kaifi Aur Main”
A Marvelous Reading Of A Poignant Memoir By Author Shaukat Azmi!

Shuchita Rao

Boston audiences were treated to a thoroughly engaging 2 hour long show featuring the reading of a memoir by noted author Shaukat Azmi titled “Kaifi aur Main” on Thursday evening, March 31 at Collins Center in Andover, MA.  On a dimly lit stage with minimal decorations,  a striking red and black photograph of poet-author, the late Kaifi Azmi was centered next to cream fabric panels with Urdu words inscribed on them, hanging on a large backdrop.  Three spotlights shone in turns on renowned Bollywood actress-daughter Shabana who read parts of the book that represented her mother Shaukat’s voice, her husband the noted author Javed Akhtar who read parts of the book that represented Kaifi Azmi’s voice and the talented playback singer Jasvinder Singh and his team of musicians who provided live music to the show.  

The memoir written and narrated in the Urdu language was a beautifully written account of the charming love story of Shaukat and Kaifi and their journey in life through its tender and romantic as well as trying and difficult phases. Through the use of voice modulation,  the well-liked celebrity couple Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar narrated the powerful story and effectively re-created the era of political turmoil in India before it got its independence from the British government. The story of poor farmers in Azamgarh of Uttar Pradesh state, the difficult living conditions for the newly married couple, Shaukat and Kaifi in Mumbai, Kaifi’s journeys to Lucknow and Kanpur to participate in the freedom struggle, stressful family finances, Shaukat’s struggle in deciding to give birth to Shabana amidst pressure to abort the child, Kaifi’s failing health that included depression, an attack of paralysis and the family’s struggle to cope with the situation were the poignant parts of the biographical account.

Dressed in a gorgeous pink sari with a red flower in her hair, actress Shabana Azmi narrated the story with confidence and style. The elegantly dressed  Javed Akhtar was crisp and flawless in his diction and towards the end, he stood up to face the audience and spoke extempore with great emotion. Jasvinder Singh, a disciple of the illustrious Hindustani vocalist Pandit Ajay Pohankar and the much loved Ghazal maestro, the late Jagjit Singh rendered popular ghazals, patriotic and film songs between the readings. Well rendered raga based compositions with touching lyrics, competent live orchestra consisting of violin, table, keyboard synthesizer and rhythm pad appealed to several members of the audience who attended the program on a weekday.

The human emotions of fear, love, jealousy, anger and greed came alive through the readings. There was humor infused in life situations that made the audience laugh every now and then. The earnest hopes of Kaifi and Shaukat Azmi to see progress and development in their hometown near Azamgarh, their relentless efforts in getting the government to help in bringing good roads, schools, a maternity home materialize towards the end of Kaifi Azmi’s life. Shaukat and Shabana are the survivors after Kaifi Azmi’s demise. “Tumahaare bagair main bahut akeli ho gayi hoon Kaifi” (I have become lonely without you) was the last sentence read in the show that demonstrated how deeply attached Shaukat was to her husband Kaifi. The audience left the auditorium feeling that some matches are made in heaven and Shaukat and Kaifi Azmi’s pairing was indeed one such match.

Congratulations to the Milan team for bringing the show to Boston!

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