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Different similarities - daughters of legendary poets recall fathers

They were among the best known Urdu poets of their day, and though their life trajectories unfolded differently, both cultural activist Salima Hashmi's father Faiz Ahmed Faiz and actress Shabana Azmi's father Kaifi Azmi had some important things in common - belief in poetry as an instrument of social change, hope for the future and refusal to peddle hatred.

Sharing reminiscences of their fathers and their growing-up, both Shabana and Salima also stressed that their mothers had also been a key force and there had been no pressure on them to follow in the footsteps of their fathers - who knew they would eventually come to it of their own volition.

Speaking at a special session of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2015 Monday, Salima (1942-) said her childhood had been "interrupted" due to the upheavals of 1946-47, then Faiz's imprisonment and that in the four years he was away, she "became an adult and learnt important lessons about childhood, family, friendship and loyalty".

On the other hand, Shabana (1950-) recalled her childhood was chaotic but comfortable. "Till I was 9, we lived in a house that was almost a Communist Party commune.. in eight rooms, lived eight families."

On their mothers, Salima said her mother was a "mother tigress born to protect us". "She was involved in the freedom struggle in London and was Krishna Menon's secretary. She kept Faiz sahab on the straight and narrow and stood by him thick and thin."

Shabana recalled her mother was an upper middle class girl of Hyderabad who fell in love with Kaifi after hearing him recite his nazm 'Aurat' in the city in 1946, thinking it had been written for her. "She was the family's primary bread-winner, and managed things that the family never had to face sacrifices."

"We learnt from her example that there were some things money could never buy... Maybe not then, but later in retrospect," said the acclaimed actress, noting how their spartan Janki Kutir cottage in Bombay hosted people like Faiz, Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri and Begum Akhtar who chose to stay there rather than be put up by any of their rich admirers.

On career choices, both Salima and Shabana said there had been no pressure because their parents, especially their fathers knew they would develop a social conscience on their own accord rather then being pressurised towards that end.

On Kaifi's film career, Shabana noted he wrote lyrics for the money they brought him. "His work is much smaller than some of his contemporaries like Majrooh (Sultanpuri) or Sahir (Ludhianvi) but what happened was that while his songs were popular, the films ended up flopping. So there was this perception that he was unlucky and he was not used much..."

"However, one day film maker Chetan Anand came up and persuaded him. When my father pointed to his record, Anand said he had a similar record and maybe their bad stars would cancel each other out... the result was 'Haqeeqat'," she said, referring to the gritty picture about the 1962 India-China war with its haunting "Ab tumhare hawale vatan saathiyo".

Salima and Shabana both agreed their fathers were equally romantic - both in words and heart, recalling anecdotes of the effect they had on women.

On their writing styles, Salima said that Faiz made it a point to rise at 6 a.m. and be on his desk soon after even if he ended writing up nothing, noting he was a "kalam ka mazdoor".

Shabana recalled Kaifi's style was more chaotic, even when he had to write film lyrics which had a deadline "but despite doing everything else, he used to get the work done in time".

"I now know that is how the creative process unfolds," she said.

One thing that was however common in both their fathers, Salima and Shabana said, was that both had an abiding faith in the goodness of people, in peace and co-existence and that change for the good would come at its own pace - and should not be hurried.

"Faiz would never succumb to peddle hatred," said Salima.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at [email protected])