Lyricist Hussain Haidry speaks on being singled out as a Muslim in India
"The bullying, barbs and the slurs have been part of my growing years. It has been tough overcoming the ‘Ehsas-e-Kamtari’ (feeling of inferiority)," admits the poet, a CA with an MBA degree
There were only three Muslims in my batch of around 110 boys in my school in Indore. There was no Muslim in the batch ahead of us nor in the one junior to us. Taking count of only those three batches, in a total of about 300 students, there were only three Muslims.
It was that primary school that taught me English—a tool that helped me navigate in civil society more than the Hindi-Urdu that help me currently earn my bread. I used to wonder where the rest of the Muslims would have gone to study.
I would end up being apologetic about my religion as well as my economic status. Nobody [from the privileged majority] would openly and explicitly tell me that they were better, but would allude to themselves as “normal”. Many didn’t make me feel different so much as beneath them. There has always been this ehsaas-e-kamtari (a sense of inferiority) that has lived within me. While a lot of it may be attributed to my own personality, I do feel a significant part of it was systemic too.
The bullying and the slurs that we finally are talking about these days, I have faced them as a teenager way back in 1999 and early 2000s. There were some friends in whose homes I was not allowed in but, of course, there were also many who would call me over. I think may be that is why I am not that bitter even today.
When it came to college, none of my professors was Muslim. There were not more than 10 or 11 Muslim students in my whole batch of 450 at IIM Indore.
What does all of this show? I will get attacked as being communal if I speak about the cause; hence I would rather present my argument with only the compelling correlation.
I come from a family where I am the first generation who studied English and got a postgraduate degree. My father, who broke the circle of poverty in our family, was able to afford school for me with a lot of difficulty. I am thankful for that, becauseI know that most Muslims don’t even get that kind of basic education. Looking back, I am not so thankful for my CA or MBA qualifications so much as the primary education, because it is the latter that gave me a base to move on to the former. People keep saying that education will make the Muslim community progressive but padhne-likhne de hi kahaan rahe hain aap (you are not allowing us to read and write)”.
The experience at the company I worked at for a while in Kolkata proved different. The CEO was Muslim. There was a lot of diversity in the office—a few Muslims, Dalits, adivasis, some from the upper castes, people from Orissa, UP, Bengal, Bihar.
I had never seen such a wide spread of employees anywhere, not even while working in a plush auditing firm in Mumbai, which is a supposed melting pot. There was a flipside though. Even though my boss liked me and appreciated my work, he would often shout at me in front of others. It was revealed to me much later by him that he mostly did it to show that he was not favouring a fellow Muslim.
What I am talking about is not just a Muslim perspective of things. If you look around and deep dive into your own experiences, then can you tell how many Muslim homes are there in your colony? How many shops are owned by Muslims in your neighbouring shopping complex? How many Muslim CEOs or senior managers have you worked with?
If you analyse the power structures in life, with class, caste, religion and gender in mind, then you will realise that it’s only one category that is dominant—the upper caste Hindu male. The decision making and the larger strings of the universe are controlled by them, and this is irrespective of their ideology or politics.
In comparison to others, the film industry is by and large a far more secular and democratic space because of the value it lays on creativity and collaborations. Yet, the ills plaguing our society systematically mirror in the film industry—both off-screen and on-screen. As responsible citizens and artists, all must collectively strive to improve on those.
My experiences also inform my work. They have reflected each and every time in my creations. I work hard on honing the special skills required in turning aap beeti into jag beeti (the personal into the universal). One of the things I do in my collaborations, is to give the director what s/he wants, but also subtly say what I want to and have them agree with that.
In the song 'Tanha Begum' in Qarib Qarib Singlle, it was my own sense of solitariness that I projected on the heroine. 'Bahut hua samman' in Mukkabaaz might have been created for the character of a boxer in eastern UP, but through it I also gave vent to my own rage. 'Dhaaga' in TVF’s Yeh Meri Family/ Aspirants is written with my brother in mind, 'Ishq Ka Haafiz' in TVF Tripling is my expression of the feelings of guilt that may arise while being in love.
I brought a lot of my experiences of working in the healthcare sector in the script of Laakhon Mein Ek Season 2. If you read between the lines of the recent song 'Bandar Baant' in Sherni, you will hear me speaking; about how those in power love to throw crumbs at us, make us fight over them like dogs, and how the society responds to it all. The song is my own political statementof 2020, and perhaps one of my strongest as yet.
(As told to Namrata Joshi) (Hussain Haidry is a writer-poet-lyricist)
(Views are personal)