Neither Akhtar nor Safia live in flesh and blood now. The poems and the annotating epistles tell the tale of a remarkable affair with love, life, and art.

Jaan Nisar Akhtar

In dialogue with self and the self’s other

Jaan Nisar Akhtar was a prominent twentieth-century poet, an active member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, and a celebrated lyricist. His works may best be appreciated in terms of how he strove to seek a solace from life. He got it, however, not from life but from his life-partner, Safia Akhtar.

As Safia, was struggling with life in Bhopal, Akhtar was trying hard to earn a living in the then Bombay to sustain himself and his family. During this period, Akhtar and Safia expressed their love to each other by scribbling their hearts out on paper. Here are some excerpts from Zer-e-Lab, Safia’s letters to Akhtar which read like whispers to the self and the self’s other. You may see here how Akhtar poeticizes what Safia wrote to him in her impassioned epistles.

Bhopal
January 29, 1952

Kyu bhule huwe ho mujhe? Main toh tumhari yaad se khaali nahi…. Hafte hafte nikal rahe ki tum mujhe khat nahi likh rahe… Tumhari sehat ka haal bhi toh mujhe nahi ma’loom, dard kaisa hai?… Behrhaal apne din raat toh waise hi andhere hain ki jaise they.
Ajao dost, aaj kal zindagi ka ehsaas mit sa raha hai….

Tumhari Safiya

Jaan Nisar Akhtar: In dialogue with self and the self’s other

Lucknow
29 Dec 1952

Nazm mili, tumhara bahot pyaara tohfa! Sach jaano mere aansu hi toh chalak pade, aaj main kitni magroor hun aur naazaan… Aaj toh mujhe aisa mehsoos huwa ki main ne tumhaari shaayari ko bhi jeet liya hai. Ab mujhe aur kya chahiye hai…

Tumhari apni
Saffo

As a word, Jaan Nisar qualifies a person who can submit one’s life. Jaan Nisar Akhtar did so precisely to engage with the demon of life and the muse of poetry.

Bhopal
12 September 1950

Akhtar aziz!
Aaj aath din hogaye. Tumhara koi haal maloom nahi. Kaheen bemaar to nahi tum? Jaadu (Javed Akhtar)  ko aaj phir bukhaar hai. Ajab kashmakash ki haalat hai roowun bhi toh kiske samne… Baaz lamhe to meri haalat pagalon ki si hone lagti hai…
Khuda ke liye khat likho, main toh mar jawungi is tanhaai ki koft mein

Tumhari Saffo

Jaan Nisar Akhtar was a prominent twentieth-century poet, an active member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, and a celebrated lyricist. His works may best be appreciated in terms of how he strove to seek

Lucknow
29 dec 1952

…Akhtar aao, tum mujhe marne na do. Main marna nahi chahti. Albatta mein thak bahot gayi hun saathi! Aao main tumhare zaano par sar rakh kar aek taveel neend lelun. Phir tumhara saath dene ke liye mein zaroor hi uth khadi hongi.
Mere beshymaar pyaar tum par nichaavar hain.

Tumhari apni
Saffo

“On the death of Safia”

“On the death of Safia”

Bhopal
25th Dec 1950

Akhtar Aziz
…Aaj saat saal horahe hain ki humein ek dusre se wabasta kiya gaya tha… Aao in saat saal ke baad phir apne ehd ki tajdeed karein ki hum kabhi kisi qeemat par ek dusre ki abtari ka ba’is nahi banen ge. Zindagi ko sanwaarne aur us ki satah ko buland karne ke liye hi apni kavishon ko sarf kareinge… Tum mera sahara ho, meri zindagi. Meri jaan.

Tumhari apni
Saffo

“One cold night of January at the grave of Safia”

“One cold night of January at the grave of Safia”

Neither Akhtar nor Safia live in flesh and blood now. The poems and the annotating epistles tell the tale of a remarkable affair with love, life, and art.

Concept and text: Faisal Fehmi

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