Niyaz Hussain: Painting away pain of polio

Setting goal for underprivileged children with Maqaam


December 11, 2022

/ By / New Delhi

Niyaz Hussain: Painting away pain of polio

Niyaz Hussain has not let his handicap come in the way of his passion to help underprivileged children (Photo: Mohsina Malik)

Having suffered constant discrimination and facing several challenges due to his disability and poverty, Delhi-based artist Niyaz Hussain is determined not to let others suffer the same fate, launching Maqaam Foundation to help underprivileged children in a Delhi slum become independent.

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On a sunny afternoon at around 2:30 pm, there is a group of children waiting impatiently at the entrance of Noor Nagar, a slum in south-east Delhi’s Okhla. This is a weekly routine for the children, who turn up eagerly once every week to the same spot and wait.

The children are waiting for Niyaz Hussain, a polyvalent artist and founder of Maqaam Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that is dedicated to empower underprivileged children with skills that would make them economically and socially independent.

While most of the children are school dropouts, some are enrolled in a local government school and a bunch have also opted for menial jobs to help with their family’s finances.

Soon enough, the children spot their teacher and mentor, who walks towards them slowly, supported by a crutch, that helps him overcome the disability brought about by polio in his early infancy, when he was barely two years old.

However, despite the disability and the discrimination, both intentional and unintentional, that have followed him all his life, Hussain says he is determined not only to make himself fully independent and self-reliant, but also empower as many others as he can.

Hussain was born in Jaunpur in Uttar Pradesh in 1991. When he was barely two, he contracted polio and his family had to move to New Delhi, both to find proper treatment for him as well as in search of a better livelihood.

“My father, who is a tailor, could not afford my treatment as my native place did not have government hospitals and managing fees of doctors was not possible for my father. My mother who is a housewife used to take me to hakeem, a practitioner of herbal medicines, for treatment but it didn’t help at all,’’ Hussain tells Media India Group.

Hussain says no sooner than had he contracted the dreaded disease than he and his family began to experience ostracization and discrimination. “After I was disabled, my mother was constantly abused by her in-laws who blamed her for my illness. So, my mother had to take me to her maternal house,’’ Hussain says.

Hussain says his struggles began from the moment he fell ill and the disease was diagnosed. “I was bed-ridden till the age of 15, but it is my mother who has been my biggest support system. She took care of me while managing the household chores and taking all responsibility on her shoulder from looking after my basic needs. She used to drop me to the school and waited there for all-day and this kept going till I passed the 12th standard from a government school in the year 2011,” Hussain says.

When Hussain was in the fourth grade in school, he was also operated upon in the hope of curing him, but his situation did not improve and he had to adapt to stand or move with the support of crutches.

Finding solace in art

 As he continuously found his disability coming in his way and facing constant discrimination in every sphere of his life, at home, in his locality and at school, he withdrew and turned to art where he found solace and comfort to deal with what lay in the outside world.

‘‘When I was in my 8th standard, during my art classes, I found a passion for art and was inspired by the paintings of Van Gogh and then by the work of Salvador Dali. Even though I was in a government school which did not had a lot of amenities but during my art classes I started to sketch and my teachers started appreciating me. Since then I have not stopped,’’ Hussain recounts.

He emphasises that from then on, he did not let his disability stop him from pursuing his dreams or seek financial independence in order to support his family. “So, once I finished my school, I worked at Okhla Sabzi Mandi as a street vendor to support my family financially. Being an elder son, it was my responsibility to look after my family and help them in whatever ways I could have. So, I began selling vegetables,” Hussain says.

Though he had become a vegetable vendor, Hussain did not give up his passion – art. “Even while selling vegetables at Mandi, I used to make portraits of the other vendors, especially when they were taking a nap in the afternoon. They all appreciated my work and this allowed me to lose my touch as well as the spark of hope,’’ he says.

Besides selling vegetables, he also took up working as a tattoo artist and used to carve designs on furniture at a furniture manufacturing shop.

When his fellow vendors at the vegetable market egged him to do ‘something big’ with his life and pursue art in a more serious and dedicated manner. This is what led him to go back to education. “In 2015, at the age of 25, I applied for admission to the Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central University in New Delhi, to take up a degree in Fine Arts. Even though I realised that managing everything like a full-time education and supporting the family would be a tough call, I did not give up. So, I applied, qualified in the entrance examination and was admitted to the university,” says Hussain.

Though he was now in a reputed educational institution, discrimination and bullying did stop, instead it came back stronger than ever, says Hussain. “During my college days, I was subjected to a lot of unpleasant experiences like bullying and stereotyping. Even those I considered my close friends used to make fun of me and the background I came from. They would say that I did not have good communication skills and they also judged me on the basis of my simple clothes since I could not afford branded products. Yet, I did not let these problems distract me from my studies,” says Hussain.

Finding a goal for himself

He goes on to say that instead of making him desperate, the taunts only made him determined to not only stand up to the bullies, but also reach out to others in a similar position and help them overcome the discrimination and ill-treatment that is almost certain to follow them all through their lives.

“So, after I successfully completed my degree, I decided to set up an NGO, Maqaam, for the welfare of the people like me, also who are from slums, by giving them a platform by holding workshops and classes to teach them how their skills can help them to shine and don’t end up living a life where they would constantly be faced with the same mistreatment,’’ says Hussain.

“Maqaam means achieving a goal. Having a goal has kept me going and I realised that I don’t have to look back at what is already past and not let it bother me. So, I want to share this lesson with others and help them find their own goals in life and how best to achieve them,’’ Hussain adds.

He says that he found support soon enough and today, Maqaam has five other volunteers who run the organisation with the objective to support and provide a platform to children from slums and make them and their families understand how important education is. “One of the biggest issues is to make the children and their families that every child has a special talent which just needs to be identified and harnessed to give them independence and confidence to succeed in their lives. Then the children don’t have to look for approvals from the society or others. They will know what they are and don’t have to necessarily fit the standards set by the society for them,’’ says Hussain.

Setting a goal for underprivileged children

Though small and not lush with funds as many other non-governmental organisations may be, Maqaam seems to have already made a difference in the children’s lives. Hailing from the slum in one of the poorest parts of the national capital, the children that Maqaam is trying to help say that they appreciate the work and have benefitted from the workshops and classes organised by Maqaam for them.

Aleena Ramzan  is one such teenager. She says that after her brother was born with a handicap, her father abandoned the family and married another woman. “He just packed up and left us in that terrible period. It totally shattered us and since then life has been the story of everyday struggle. Somehow my mother managed to enrol me in a local government school,’’ Ramzan says.

“I want to do something with my life. My dream is that I become a lawyer. In order to get there, I attend all the workshops of Maqaam and attend the evening classes, never skipping it even if I am tired because I want to learn and boost my creative skills and make my mother proud and fulfil her and my dreams,’’ she says, while attending a workshop organised by Maqaam.

Hussain says that he has seen the transformation amongst children who attend the workshops and other activities regularly. “Every child has a lot of talent. They just need some help in finding their goal and then how to get there. It is a learning process and I have seen them changing and their way of communicating is improving,’’ says Hussain adding, “I feel that I am doing something for the children which has put me at peace”.

As the workshop concludes, Hussain slowly gets up, using his crutches, collecting the paintings made by the children and the art materials and heads out of Noor Nagar. As he walks slowly, his band of children follow him, right up to the entrance of the locality where they had received their mentor earlier that afternoon. Nothing seems to have changed. Only the expression of their faces has changed from excited anticipation to a smile that beams satisfaction and confidence that even they have a Maqaam to look forward to.




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