Hanif Shaikh is a patient young man who wears his heart on his sleeve. He works night-shifts at a call-centre so he can support his family and has no time and inclination to judge people by their names and communities, in fact he wishes for a world that placed humanity above everything else, especially religion. Hanif is also an up-and-coming rapper who goes by the stage name NIFF.
“I was born during the 1993 riots. It was a traumatic time for my mother, and, in fact, for any woman to bring a child into the world that year. The mental struggle that arose from those circumstances has still not ended. It perhaps never will. Fear, anger and pain takes over one’s life and becomes a part of everything we do.”
NIFF spent his formative years in Kandivali, in a predominantly Hindu society with friends from diverse backgrounds. Even the smallest differences in community and religion can have a significant impact on people. And though he was close to his friends, something made him feel like he didn’t entirely belong.
“When we later shifted to Malad, I found myself in a Muslim-majority neighbourhood. I thought I would finally become part of the community, but it didn’t take me long to realise that it was just as bad. I belonged neither here, nor there. I was used to a lifestyle where I listened to music, wore shorts and went nowhere without my headphones. I was now being told that I should change my behaviour and what I was doing was against my religion.”
But he could never give up music, his expression. His latest song 1993 talks not only about the aftermath of the riots but also his life in its entirety, the mistakes he has made and his future.
“My mother taught me moral lessons in life, but I went down the wrong path, I was in dangerous company. Today when I reflect on my past, I realise what she told me was for the best. 1993 is a dedication to her.”
NIFF refers to himself as a political rapper. He tells us, “The real reason I fell in love with Hip Hop was that it told stories from the streets, stories of struggle, pain and life. It was a vehicle to tell my own stories. Whatever I talk about through my music are issues that I have faced personally, especially the corruption Indians face on every level.”
1993 is NIFF’s third single. While rough around the edges, it shows tremendous lyrical growth and maturity. Composed, mixed and mastered by Moin Farooqui, the only thing we wished for was a little more in terms of instrumentation. We loved the distorted guitar track in his previous single The Bombay (Again created by Moin) and would have loved to hear something out of the ordinary in this one too. Nevertheless, his hard-hitting and unforgettable lines like 'Maa ne li thi ek kasam, Dungi tujko main janam, Kaafi saari mannto se, Kaafi saari mushkilo se, Bach nikli woh dushmano se, Buzdilon se, Tha lad kar dikhaya, Janam deke mujhko maa ne apna haq hai nibhaya' sent chills down our spines.
“I’ve just begun making contacts and the good thing is people are responding well. I spoke to someone at Rolling Stone, and I’m excited that they are sharing my track on their site. I’m glad people like my music because I work hard at my full-time job in order to pay for it. I don’t have the luxury of time, a disposable income or even a private room to record.”