mid-day's 39th anniversary: The accidental poet

By Gaurav Sarkar | Mumbai

Meet the chartered accountant whose question, main kaisa Musalman hoon? challenged polarising rhetoric during the Uttar Pradesh elections and moved an entire nation

Hussain Haidry says he wrote Hindustani Musalman only for himself. Pic/Sneha Kharabe

HUSSAIN HAIDRY, 32
Urdu poet and lyricist

Writing poetry is a calling. Who better to tell you this than Hussain Haidry, who, last February, struck a deep chord with the nation after he recited his poem, Hindustani Musalman at The Storytellers Workshop organised by Kommune at Encompass, Andheri.

A native of Indore, Haidry's two-page poem catapulted him into the spotlight of Urdu poetry circles in India after it went viral. His immaculate and gentle recital said something simple but powerful — Muslims in India are no less Hindustani than the person sporting a saffron headband.

"I wrote the first few lines on a train from Kolkata to Bhutan," says Haidry, now a resident of Versova. As fate would have it, he misplaced that piece of paper, but thankfully managed to remember the first few lines, which gave him the cue to pick it up later.

"One day, I returned to office after lunch and wrote the poem on my laptop. I don't know what triggered it but it just flowed," says Haidry, who attributes his interest in writing to reading. "My father owns a bookstore. It is Indore's largest, and the best," he says of the 40-year-old shop. Although Haidry wasn't a voracious reader, he says he read a variety of literature, including Asterix and Tintin.

Haidry has written for himself since he was 23, but he didn't imagine writing for a living. After becoming a chartered accountant in 2009, he worked in Mumbai at Ernst and Young. A PGDM from IIM, Indore, landed him work as financial chief manager with a start-up in Kolkata.

But when he began to miss the cultural vibe of Mumbai, he returned to an arts scene he calls more "cosmopolitan and westernized" than Kolkata's. Just before Hindustani Musalman happened, Haidry had worked for digital content firm, The Viral Fever, and written lyrics for three Hindi films, Mukkabaaz, Kareeb Kareeb Single and Gurgaon.

Now, a full-fledged poet and writer, Haidry spends his days at home making chai and letting the poetry flow. Unlike the picture of doom some choose to create, he thinks Urdu poetry is in a safe place. "It's not on the decline although every generation feels it is."

The 6,00,000+ views his recitation of Hindustani Musalman received, is testimony. "The video was released on February 10 last year, and I thought it would get lost in the clutter of content churned out on Valentine's Day. But, it got 5K views on the first day. This doubled on the second, and when someone took the video to WhatsApp and Twitter, it went viral."

Haidry made headlines for taking an honest look at himself through his words. And so, while the line, mera ek mahina ramzan bhi hai, maine kiya toh Ganga snaan bhi hai, apne hi taur se jeeta hoon, daaru-cigarette bhi peeta hoon, drew smiles, when he said, main Babri ka ek gumbad hoon, main sheher ke beech mein sarhad hoon, he chose to look at the ugly side of riots.

Now, he chooses to call himself a full-time nocturnal writer. "I write at night and am happy to focus solely on writing. I usually end up writing what I am feeling in that moment."

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