Gaitonde from Sacred Games is brutal, abusive and cocky, but the real Nawaz is quite the opposite

Nawazuddin Siddiqui has been impressing us with his acting abilities, but these days netizens can't stop raving about Ganesh Gaitonde – the character he plays in Netflix series Sacred Games

Neelesh Misra
| Updated: February 21st, 2020

This was the first time I was meeting Nawaz for a ‘slow’ and leisurely interview and until this happened, I was blissfully unaware that one could write love letters through kites! His Gaon Connection is for real as he grew up in a village and he would, in his own words, watch C-grade films in a cinema hall made up of tin and bedsheets and talk to girls when the electricity would go off. He is immensely talented is something that we all know, but he is also your regular guy who grew up with many complexes and he was mocked too often for being short, lanky and dark. People would tell him on his face that he wasn’t hero material. He has come a long way since then, but it’s incredible how rooted he is. Meet the real Nawazuddin Siddiqui

(In a car)

Me: We are on our way to my home. I have named it ‘Slow’, where life comes to standstill.

Nawaz: This is beautiful! Me: How was your childhood like? How naughty were you?

Nawaz: I was extremely naughty! I would befriend only those who were the mastermind! Most of the boys were senior to me. I spent a lot of time with them. They lived in the same village. We would fly kites, play marbles, steal sugarcanes from trucks that would pass by and watch C-grade films!

Me: Where would you watch these films? In those video parlours? Nawaz: No. There was a make-shift cinema hall in my village. It was made of tin and bedsheets. So, those boys who were senior to me would go there, especially on holidays, like Eid. That cinema hall was close to a river. People would bathe their cows and buffaloes and they would cross the cinema hall. I still remember I was watching a Jitendra film. They were showing his close up and just then a buffalo passed by! I thought that Jitendra was sitting on a buffalo!

Me: Was there electricity in your village? Or there were generators?

Nawaz: Oh no. No electricity. No generators. There were lanterns. We got used to those. We would study in that light. But it used to be fun when there used to be no electricity. We would stand in our mohalla and stare at girls! In small towns, one has to be careful. People are particular about these things! Things may go out of hands! So, we would wait for the electricity to go off.

Me: The darkness would give you privacy!

Nawaz: Yes! We would go and talk to these girls then. I would tell them that I would fly kites and write love letters to them. They would catch hold of the kite and would send me a reply back! If someone was spotted talking to any girl, other boys would tease him.

Me: Writing letters through kites? Please elaborate!

Nawaz: Oh yes. I would write these letters. I would pour my heart out in these letters. And then when the wind used to be favourable, I would fly that kite and ensure the letter reached the girl. Then I had to wait for the next day for her reply!

Me: Oh! She too would fly kites!

Nawaz: Yes! I would fly kites and she would paste her reply on that kite! There were times when I had to wait for eight days for the wind to turn favourable! There was this girl I liked who would go to her friend’s place to watch TV. This was when they showed shows like Krishi Darshan on Doordarshan. One day I bumped into her. She refused to talk to me saying she had to go to her friend’s place to watch TV. I told her one day I would appear on television. I just randomly said that! So, after 12-15 years, when I made my debut, I remembered this incidence. I called my friend and asked about this girl. I asked my friend to tell her that I had kept my promise. My friend said, “Are you mad! She is married to a maulana now. He doesn’t even let her go out, forget about watching television! Me: This is where you studied?

Nawaz: Yes, in my village.

Me: How were you as a student?

Nawaz: I was an average student. I was a backbencher. The other bright boys in my class didn’t even know that I existed.

Me: Why? Were you an introvert?

Nawaz: Yes, mostly. Some boys were very talented. They were good at studies, at sports. I wasn’t good at anything.

Me: Did you have friends?

Nawaz: Yes, I had many friends. I had a friend named Parvez who had an Amitabh Bachchan kind of swag! He was very famous in our mohalla. I liked him a lot. He was very talented. He was polite, well-mannered. He was a tomboy, but he was also a Casanova! Then I had a friend named Madan. He would play Ram in Ramlila. He played Ram in so many Ramlilas that he started behaving like Ram! He started talking like him. All the girls in my class respected Madan a lot! I wanted them to respect me as well. I always wanted to play a character in Ramlila. I would tell them to give me any character; I would take it up.

Me: Did you get to play any? Nawaz: I got insignificant roles. Like I would be a part of the vanarsena!

Me: Did you have to stick a tale on to yourself?

Nawaz: Yes. The tail and even a mask! I would apply the makeup myself.

Me: How did you get hurt? (pointing at the hand injury). Nawaz: While shooting a scene. I had to punch someone. Me: Oh! you have started taking up roles of an action hero?

Nawaz: On no. I just had to push some people around. I am playing a senior officer. I got carried away! Me: Have you always been an injury-prone person?

Nawaz: Yes. Since childhood. We would go to forests to pluck blackberries (jamun). One day we plucked many jamuns. I was wearing a white kurta-payjama. I kept the jamuns in my pocket. The kurta turned blue in a few hours. I was petrified of my mother as she was very strict. I went to my neighbour and asked her to cut the pocket and stitch a temporary patch on it. This reminds me of another incident. This neighbour had a daughter. She had many marks on her face, probably because of pimples or chickenpox. My mother used to teach Urdu, Arbi and Hindi and this girl would come to our house. When I was in the sixth standard, a team of doctors had arrived in my village. They had promised to pay Rs 2,000 to those who identified people who had chickenpox. I took those 5-6 doctors to our neighbour’s house. Around 200 students from our school followed us! Her old mother got petrified seeing so many of us. I told her they were there to examine her daughter who had chickenpox. They would cure her. Her mother scolded me and said she didn’t have chickenpox, they were just pimples. The team of doctors scolded me for making them walk for so long and all the 200 students would pull my legs for the next few days!

Me: Would kids beat each other up in school?

Nawaz: Yes. Even I wanted to beat people up. But I wasn’t physically very strong.

Me: What were your dreams then?

Nawaz: I didn’t have any dreams. There were not many educated people around where I lived. Most of them were farmers or labourers. I used to be clueless about my future. Many Brahmin families lived close by. Their kids would diligently go to the school. They were disciplined. That’s when my mother felt that we should also go to school.

Me: What is your mother’s name?

Nawaz: Mehrunisa.

Me: You didn’t have any ambitions? Any dreams?

Nawaz: I had this very random dream. Because I had never stepped out of my village, I would often visualize snow-capped mountains. I wanted to go there. I wanted to achieve something faraway. I was desperate to get out of my village, so I went to Haridwar to pursue graduation. I took up chemistry.

Me: Did this stepping out of the village gave you any clarity of thought?

Nawaz: Yes, things became clearer. But I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to join the entertainment industry. Then I went to Baroda. I was told that the MS University in Baroda offered special courses in Microbiology, Pathology. It has a beautiful campus. But by the time I reached there, the admission process was over. But I made two-three friends. I stayed with them for 8-10 days. One day a friend took me to watch a play. I asked him if could join the training. He asked me if I was a graduate. That’s how smoothly it happened. I did backstage for long and only then I got two lines to speak. Someone suggested I should to Delhi because in Baroda, they would mostly produce Gujarati plays. I couldn’t get admission in Delhi, so someone suggested I went to Lucknow. I did my first play “Khamosh … adalat zaari hai”. I did two-three plays here. One, being Roshoman. Then I joined the National School of Drama. Only then did I realise what the real deal was. It was there that I decided that theatre was what I wanted to do.

Me: Did your personality undergo any change?

Nawaz: Actually, my personality changed because of my father who would lie a lot! I caught many of his lies! That’s when I decided not to be like him! Me: What kind was he? Nawaz: He would lie through his nose! I remember I once had to go to Bulgaria via Dubai. I was a dialogue coach for an actor. I told him I was going to Bulgaria. He said he had been there! He even asked me to carry warm clothes! When Amitabh Bachchan was an MP, my father would visit Delhi a lot. I still don’t know why he would go to Delhi so often! One day we were discussing politics at home. He said he had met Amitabh Bachchan many times! He added the last time they had met, he told Mr Bachchan that he had gained weight and that he should do some exercise! To this, Mr Bachchan said that he was keeping too busy! I was too young to understand his lies, so for me, my father was my hero! One day we went to Delhi. As soon as we landed at the bus stand, my father took us to a restaurant. After we had our meal, some fight broke out and the waiter abused us a lot! I kept looking at my father, who wasn’t saying a word! So, I kept wondering why was he silent, he was a hero, he should fight back. When I asked him, he said those people were too petty to put up a fight! It was then I realised that my father was a compulsive liar! But the good part about this was that his lies gave us the confidence to go out and face the world. When I left home, I was a confident guy. Luckily for me, things worked out.

Me: Where did life take you after NSD?

Nawaz: I stayed in Delhi for 3-4 years and did some street plays. That’s how I earned some money. We did these plays for the government to spread awareness.

Me: And how was life back then? Nawaz: Life wasn’t easy, neither in Delhi, nor in Mumbai. But things were relatively easy in Delhi as I lived in a hostel and got food to eat in the college mess. Life was good. I didn’t feel like leaving hostel even after I passed out! One day my teacher kicked me out and asked me to start working. Then it was tough. I didn’t have any work for the next one-and-a-half years; not even the street plays. I would have tea and biscuits for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! Now I hate Parle-G! Though I like the taste, I don’t feel like having it now as I had it for more than a year.

Me: How did you come to Mumbai?

Nawaz: I conducted a workshop in DPS, Faridabad. They paid me Rs 6,000. I had some savings. I bought a train ticket and landed in Mumbai.

Me: You didn’t have any work? You didn’t know anybody?

Nawaz: I had a few friends. Some of my seniors and batchmates were in Mumbai. Me: Who were your contemporaries then? Do we know them? Nawaz: Manoj Bajpayee came much before. Pankaj Tripathi was a junior. We would go to his room quite often. He was fun to be with. He was good-mannered and give us a lot of respect.

Me: How did you survive in Mumbai?

Nawaz: Those who pass out from the NSD, they are always under the impression that they would get a job as soon as they would land in Mumbai. They think they know how to act. But it’s so difficult to get in.

Me: Like how?

Nawaz: My biggest problem was that people always underestimated me. This started way back when I was living in my village. In Mumbai, when I would go and meet someone, they would just stare at me from head to toe. I had to tell them that I was an actor. The standard reply would be that I didn’t look like one! Then I would say let me show you my acting skills; allow me to perform. They would tell me on my face that I wasn’t a hero material! This happened for a long time. I was lanky, my complexion wasn’t right. People would say I don’t have it in me to be a hero. They, in their heads, had this image. Me: Did you feel inferior?

Nawaz: Yes. I bought cheap fairness cream from local shops! I wanted to be fair.

Me: I wanted to discuss this. In India, we are obsessed with fair skin. Like you said you don’t fit in the “slot”. How was it to grow with this complexion? Did people make you realise that you don’t fit in?

Nawaz: Yes. Most of the people in my extended family are tall and fair. They are your typical jats. But my parents are opposites. So naturally, I am not fair or tall. Our relatives never accepted us. That’s how it started. Most of them refused to give us their daughters. That’s how I developed this complex. It did hurt me a lot.

Me: So, when you grew up with this complexion … girls?

Nawaz: Once, when my father’s friend from the city visited along with his daughter, all the boys gathered around her in the evening. She said she could see my face only when I laughed and my teeth were visible. I liked her. I felt humiliated. I liked many girls, but they were all going out with the good-looking boys. I was convinced that I didn’t have it in me.

Me: This is an important issue which we never discuss. Thousands of girls and boys go through this. We grew up hearing songs like “Radha kyo gori, me kyo kala”. The same people who mocked your complexion are now offering you films and ads. Your face is on the hoardings. So many directors, producers and admen and dying to work with you. What has changed now? It’s like that glass ceiling that which girls have to break, isn’t it? This is an important issue that should be discussed.

Nawaz: No, no! It still happens. They still sit around and discuss which heroine would look good with a particular actor. Things are still the same. Yes, people are a bit aware now. We have thought processes like ‘black is beautiful’, but in reality, nothing has changed.

Me: Yes. When you enter this industry, you are conscious that people are also judging you based on your complexion.

Nawaz: Absolutely! When we come across a not-so-fair heroine, we tend to tell her that she may not click with the audience. We don’t judge her based on her talent. Eventually, even she gets convinced that she may not click and that she would get only character roles. My grandmother often used to say: “Khuda jab husn deta hai, nazaakat aa hi jaati hai”. She had two daughters – one was fair, one wasn’t. She would often compare the two. She would praise the fair one and mock and humiliate the other one.

Me: How did you get your first film? How did your journey begin? Nawaz: My first film was Sarfarosh. I had a small role in it. Me: Do you remember that day?

Nawaz: Yes. Initially, my friend was offered that role. He disappeared! So, the casting director of that film, Umashankar Pathik, asked me to audition for that role. I went to director John Mathew’s home and auditioned. He selected me. On the day of the shoot, I randomly asked them who was playing ACP Rathore (lead character). I suspected it was played by Aamir as he was also in that film. They just said memorise your dialogues. When the shoot began, Aamir was standing in front of me! I panicked! But it worked well because that character was of a timid guy.

Me: After that?

Nawaz: There was a film called Shool. Anurag Kashyap was the dialogue writer. I went to Madh Island where they were shooting the film. Anurag has seen Sarfarosh. I told him that I had played a small role in that. He discouraged me from taking up that role as according to him it wasn’t significant. I requested him to let me take it up as I needed the Rs 1,500 that he was paying. I kept in touch with Anurag. When he made Black Friday, he offered me a meaty role, but the film was banned. We were banking on that film to get us more role. By the time it released after two years, people had seen the pirated version. But people noticed me in that film and I was offered Dev-D.

Me: You had to wait for long. Nawaz: Yes. Nine long years. I was disappointed, I was irritable. Me: How did you keep yourself motivated?

Nawaz: I had a good support system. Many actors like me were struggling. I would go to their place and live with them till they threw me out! I would play extras in the film. There was a time I didn’t eat for three-four days. When you have friends, who are also struggling and are hungry, the struggle seems normal. I was getting frustrated. One day I went to Jogi bhai. He was a casting director. He was a nice guy. He lived in Four Bungalows. He asked me to go to Film City where they were shooting an ad film. The assistant asked us to sit in a bus where the shoot was happening and asked us to just be a part of the crowd. I sat on the bus and hid my face when the camera rolled.

Me: Why?

Nawaz: I was scared of people’s reaction – that an NSD pass out is playing an extra! We got Rs 2,000. When we were leaving, the coordinator caught us. I told him we were junior artists. He wanted to see our card. We didn’t have any. He thought we were lying and took away Rs 2,000, of the total Rs 4,000 that we had earned! We straight went to a restaurant and hogged. Then we sat in an auto and went home, which was a very big deal for us!

Me: Did you, at any point in time, felt defeated?

Nawaz: No, never. I was just scared that I would not be able to survive. I wasn’t getting enough to eat. Survival was a problem. But I never felt defeated. I would always look out for opportunities – opportunities to go to Bandra in a bus. I always hoped I got something to eat so that I had the energy to walk up to Bandra.

Me: You never felt like going back in these nine years?

Nawaz: Never, because I had nowhere to go! I couldn’t have gone back to Delhi. They wouldn’t have accepted me back! They would have said you shouldn’t have gone to Mumbai in the first place. Going back to my village was out of the question.

Me: How did you manage to keep the innocent child in you alive?

Nawaz: Not sure. I am not even in a position to tell if I have that innocence in me or not!

Me: A wall does get created between you and the outside world. For instance, now you can’t walk out of your house and take a walk. Does this affect you or are you fine with it?

Nawaz: I think, one should just accept things as they happen. Today, if I get worked up that my life is finished, I can’t even go for a walk, then it won’t be fair. I should just accept it. That was a different life, this is a different life.

Me: Did you crave to be famous then?

Nawaz: Honestly, no. I wasn’t dying to be famous. I just wanted to get good work then. I have seen my father flop. He failed in everything that he took up. So, I had this thing and I wanted to work sincerely and diligently. When I landed in Mumbai, I was clueless as to what my goals were. I just wanted to work – on TV, in theatre … wherever. I didn’t want to be like my father, who would sit and wait for work. I did many odd jobs, even fixed punctured tyres, but he failed in that as well. So, I would go out looking for work every single day.

Me: The glamour didn’t attract you?

Nawaz: I was never attracted to glamour – not then, not now, would never be. I wanted to work honestly. I wanted to add my life experiences in my work. I wanted to take away some experiences from the work I did. Like when someone is directing a play, everyone is experimenting. That’s how my acting is. The process excites me, more than the result.

Me: You have been through so much. Do these experiences come in handy while acting?

Nawaz: Absolutely! I feel to be a good journalist and a good communicator, one has to be a good listener and a good observer. Even now I am trying to do that. I have seen your shows. I love listening to you!

Part two

Me: Finally, we are at my place!

Nawaz: It’s beautiful.

Me: Are you liking it here?

Nawaz: Loving it. This peace, this fresh air, these things are a luxury for us now. We think about these things living in Mumbai and here I am experiencing it. You all are connected to your roots. You are also very stubborn! You managed to get all of us here! All are rushing here! It’s beautiful. Everyone wants to come here, but people are just stuck.

Me: It’s good that you recognised that I am the stubborn kind!

Nawaz: I want you to give me a script and I want to live here for a month and prepare for this role. That would be my best role ever. This place is incredible. I can think of infinite thoughts here.

Me: Do you get time to relax?

Nawaz: Yes, I crave for that relaxation time. I think post 2012, when I had three releases, and till now, I didn’t get any time to relax. I think I got irritable because I was constantly working. I wanted to take a break and go somewhere and just think about life so far. Just ponder about things – both good and bad. And then come back to this life. I was looking for …

Me: Stability?

Nawaz: Yes. As an actor, I sometimes feel like going somewhere and sitting, not talking to anyone and just stare into nothingness. I won’t move or do a thing. This is what I feel after working for six-seven years.

Me: You kept on working and then you tasted success in 2012. After that did your career see a dip?

Nawaz: Not a dip, but my sense of being did take a beating. Ever since I was a child, I was told to be honest, never lie, but after 2012, when things stabilised, those principals went out of the window. I had to lie to so many people. Your inner-self does not allow you, but you still have to do these things. So that frustrates you. Things were so bad that I was scared to even say the truth. I was just going with the flow. I was feeling bad about it.

Me: What kind of lies?

Nawaz: Many lies, because saying the truth wasn’t even an option. The atmosphere was such that I was convinced that even if I would say the truth, the other person would not believe it. I eventually became what the industry and society demanded.

Me: It’s dangerous to get used to the stardom? Did that bug bite you?

Nawaz: Yes, it’s dangerous. It’s like, once you hit the highway, you have to drive at the speed of 900 km/hour! You are a part of the race. You will have to cruise, no matter how you do it. It is dangerous.

Me: There is a saying – when you are riding a lion, you can’t get down. I think about it many times. I entered the world of radio just by chance. It wasn’t intentional. I also know that a day would come when my stories would stop appealing to people. I want to be prepared for that day, otherwise, it will affect me very badly when I would stop getting emails and people would stop lining up for autographs. Are there people around you in Mumbai who couldn’t handle things when they stopped being famous?

Nawaz: These are just stages. Today I am living this life, tomorrow I will have to deal with the stage that you are talking about. I want to be mentally prepared for that. There’s this story. There was a king, who got fed up and went away to a jungle. He went to a saint. He told him his predicament that he is no longer powerful or rich. The saint gave him two lockets. He asked him to open one locket when his situation would deteriorate further and another second one when his situation would improve. His situation worsened and he opened the first locket. I was written: “This time shall pass.” He felt motivated and got back to his work and life. When he again became successful, he again opened that locket. It was written: “This too shall pass.” So, I know. This time shall pass and that time would arrive.

Me: Yes. Mumbai life is very temporary and fake. I know people who talk about themselves in the third person!

Nawaz: I know these people! There is this actress. Her film never made it to any of the film festivals. You know, you can screen your films at these festivals, you can call your family and friends for the screening and then brag about it after coming back to India? There are many cinema halls at Cannes. You can book the entire hall and even roll your red carpet! The news spread here that this actress’s film was to be screened at Cannes. Say, her name is Rina. So, Rina tells her manager that Rina would walk the red carpet. The manager politely said that they haven’t got the permission. To this Rina tells the manager: “Rina wants that there should be a red carpet, Rina should walk on that red carpet and Rina’s film should be screened here!”

Me: You were able to save yourself from this madness? Nawaz: I should be able to save myself because I don’t take these things seriously. I feel I got more than I deserved. This fame would go away and I think I am ready to face that life because I have struggled for 12-15 years. I don’t think life can get worse than what it was then. It was really bad. I would be able to manage the rest. My first act was full of struggle, this is the second act and the third act will soon unfold. I should be able to deal with it. Me: Tell me how is it to be an actor. What is your day like? Do you practice in front of the mirror?

Nawaz: No, I don’t practice in front of the mirror because otherwise I will get influenced by the outside world. Acting should come from within. I should be able to connect with myself and if I can do that, it will show in my act. I don’t need a mirror so long as I can do this. You tend to make mistakes by looking into a mirror because then you tend to fix the externalities and not concentrate on your inner self.

Me: Now there are many platforms for an actor to showcase his talent. That hunger that an actor must have seems achievable now. What do you think about the next generation?

Nawaz: This generation is very aware because they have seen the world cinema. They are knowledgeable. They know about the kind of experiments that are happening in this field around the world. But what I have observed is that there are not many who do this and this generation is not well versed with the language. We didn’t have mobiles them. When we did the theatre, we practised a lot. We would practice the whole day because we didn’t have these distractions. Yes, they are knowledgeable, but they don’t observe things and people or they can’t emote as well as we could do. Their lives revolve around gadgets. They are not able to give as much time to acting. This is what I feel.

Me: Do you miss your mother’s food? Tell me about her.

Nawaz: Yes. I am used to having meals cooked by her. My mother, unlike my father, was very hardworking. She influenced me a lot. She would wake up at 4 am. She would feed the cattle and start making breakfast for us, wash clothes, prepare lunch – she would grind the spices on her own. She would sleep last. She worked nonstop from four in the morning to 11 in the night. She would teach Hindi and Urdu to kids. She taught 500-600 kids in her lifetime. I have taken after her. I usually wake up by 5-6 am.

Me: Are you a good son?

Nawaz: I am a very good son to my mother. Not because she is my mother, but because she is an aged person. It’s important to respect your elders. You should listen to them when they scold you. Like, I knew my father would lie a lot. He also had this habit of narrating the same incident again and again. So, I made sure to give different reactions each time. That made him feel good.

Me: Are you a good father?

Nawaz: I am a good father, but I am not able to give her time. There is no way out. We will have to accept this. When my daughter would grow up, I would tell her that there is a reason why I could send her to a good school. Now that she is 8, she has started complaining that I go away and that I don’t live with her. I tell her I go out for shoots and that’s where the money comes from. She says that money comes from the ATM! Then I have to tell her but it’s your father who has to put money in the ATM! Everybody wants their children to study in a good school. For my parents, even DAV was a good school. But now that we have the money, we opt for bigger, better schools.

Me: Do you scold her? Did your parents scold you when you were a kid?

Nawaz: No, I can never scold her. She is allowed to do whatever she wants to do. My mother would beat me a lot. She would beat me until I was a grown-up. She would beat me with anything and everything she could lay her hands on. I loved to play marbles, fly kites. One day she tied my hands up! I went to watch a film and stole Rs 5 for that. I went along with my friend and bought Palangtod (a kind of betel leaf). So, some of it was left in my coat. While washing it, my mother found it in the pocket. She confronted me and I confessed that I went to watch a film. So, she realised I must have stolen Rs 5. She tied my hands. The film that I watched was Mahendra Sandhu’s Khoon ka Badla Khoon!

Me: Coming back, please tell me more about flying kites and writing love letters! Today’s generation, that waits for the blue tick, should also know this trick!

Nawaz: Yes! We would paste our letters on the kites using a dough. I was an expert in navigating these kites that would land at the desired location! Me: What if her father arrived just then?

Nawaz: It happened once! At times we had to wait for eight days for the girl’s reply. We had to wait until the winds turned favourable. Once, while all this was happening, the girl’s father landed there and dragged with the girl downstairs. What happened after that is not known to me! Me: You were safe?

Nawaz: I was safe. Her father could never figure out who dropped that kite as he wore thick glasses! Me: Would you write your name?

Nawaz: No! I wasn’t this dumb. Besides, there wasn’t any need to write our names. The girls know who would be dropping the kite!

Me: The younger generation, that banks on blue ticks, should listen to this. You should know that love is about a lot of hard work and patience. This would happen to me that I would write and …

Nawaz: You must be great at writing love letters because you speak so well!

Me: Yes, it came handy! When you write a poem to someone, you don’t have to spend a penny, and that person would always keep the letter beneath her pillow! I grew up in Nainital and would get very little as pocket money. I would write on behalf of my friend to his girlfriend. He could not get her, but I managed to impress the girl! She said about this friend that he is an idiot, but writes good poetry! Writing well has collateral damage. Others use our words and out poetry, but when we have to genuinely say something to someone, we fall short of words! Did you feel strange when suddenly you were expected to talk in English?

Nawaz: No. Initially, when I started working, I would feel bad that my English wasn’t good enough. But when I would go abroad to attend film festivals, I would talk to them in English for hours. I was able to make them understand what I wanted to say. They were not being judgemental. But here people are. They lay too much emphasis on grammar. People would point out my mistakes and so my confidence level went down.

Me: Yes, people assume that if a person is talking in English, he must be very intelligent.

Nawaz: Yes, it happens. It would happen at the NSD. I would answer a question in Hindi and if someone answered the same question in English, the professors would consider his answer to be right. I would tell my teachers that I had said the same thing!

Me: Now that the film industry has accepted various dialects of Hindi, do you feel less complexed?

Nawaz: Not anymore. I know my English is good, but only abroad!

Me: Let’s assume that you are sitting on a bench in a park with a stranger. You have to tell this person who the real Nawazuddin Siddiqui is. How would you introduce Nawaz to him? Nawaz: He is a lost and a hassled person. Even today I am confused about a lot of things. I am still looking for many answers. I don’t have clarity of thoughts. I am not able to arrive at the decision.

Me: What are the good and the bad qualities in you?

Nawaz: I have not thought about it. I have not analysed the real Nawaz. From society’s point of view, I may have many bad qualities. Though I don’t think I have any bad qualities that are beyond anybody’s tolerance level or are detrimental to society. I don’t think as a person I can intentionally harm anyone.

Me: I want to show you the school which my parents have started.

Nawaz: I would love to meet them and ask them what motivated them to shift from Canada and start this school. Nawaz to SB Misra (editor-in-chief, Gaon Connection): Your life has been an inspiration. And this is a beautiful campus!

Me: He (Nawaz) also has a Gaon Connection. He hails from a proper village in Muzaffarpur.

Nawaz: I want to ask you what inspired you to quit your job in Canada and start this school here. SB Misra: I was in the sixth-seventh standard. There is a place here called Itaunja. I would go there for a stroll and come back. It occurred to me that there was no school here. There were not many schools then. It was considered to be an achievement if people cleared Class 8. After I cleared Class 8, I had to go to Lucknow. I studied in the Government Jubilee Inter College and completed my M.Sc in Geology from Lucknow University. I started working with ONGC. But I would often think about the fact that there was no school in my village and kids have to come this far. I got a scholarship and I went to Canada. There were 8-10 Indians. When they would ask me what I wanted to do, I would tell them I wanted to open a school in my village. I managed to achieve many things. I was a landed immigrant. I could have become a citizen. But nothing could stop me from coming back to my village. People couldn’t believe it when I told them I wanted to open a school. Some of them thought I had lost it. They advised me to meditate for a few days! Then I met her. (My wife)

Nawaz: Oh! You were not married then?

SB Misra: Yes! I got married on May 14, 1972. She was interested in teaching and my condition was that I would marry someone who would help me run the school. We started the school, but our savings were getting exhausted. So, I went to Madhya Pradesh and started working as a journalist. The situation at the school was really bad. We would charge a nominal fee, but the kids would run away and it wasn’t possible to run the school if we didn’t charge a penny. I almost gave up, but she said she would run the school. So, I went to Madhya Pradesh and she came here.

Nawaz (to Nirmala Misra): Why don’t you narrate the rest of the story. Me: Tell him about the truck incident!

Nirmala Misra: I was very happy that I was getting married to a Canada-returned boy. I thought I was very lucky. So, when I came to Itaunja, I was decked up as a bride and I came in a taxi. After we reached Itaunja, he politely asked me if I could climb onto a truck! He made me sit in a truck! I had to take the support of the box that I was carrying with me! He sat next to the driver and made me sit at the back! My lipstick evaporated! I had never seen such houses before. It was weird to walk on this uneven land.

Nawaz: Did you ever wonder why did you marry him?

Nirmala Misra: No, never. I love his company. He supported me a lot. When he gave up on the idea of opening a school, I said I would run it. I told him we would die here. We left our kids in Nainital. We would leave one kid in Lucknow. We would get one kid for fifteen days and the other one for the next fifteen days.

SB Misra: I told her once let’s go back. She said why did you come back? You wanted these kids to have a quality education, now let’s not go back. Me: We have 4-5 cows here. My daughter has named them – Rani, Jhumru, Rambo, Nandini …

Nawaz: Amazingly, she is growing up in such a setup. She is growing up amid trees and is breathing fresh air. She is playing with animals. It’s not possible in the cities. At times I get angry with myself. I now have everything, but I don’t dare to go back to my roots. I have achieved what I had yearned for. I earn money, I then spend it, and then I earn it again. Which is why the frustration. People are constantly looking for something …

Me: Peace, stability. We will all have to stop somewhere.

Nawaz: Absolutely! I have 2-3 homes in Mumbai, but I feel as if I am stuck somewhere in between. I always feel as if I belong somewhere else. I always feel my home is somewhere else. Here, in this village, I feel as if everything is normal. I can breathe. You can’t feel like this is Mumbai.

Transcribed by: Preeti Raghav

Translation and editing: Swati Subhedar