To be 16 and to be famous might be a recipe for academic disaster, but not when you’re Nahid Afrin. The teenager from Assam’s Biswanath Chariali town (about 37 km from Guwahati) enthrals audiences at packed concerts in New York and London, lends her voice for playback in big Bollywood movies, fields a follower base of over 7,000 on Twitter and about 3,00,000 on Facebook — and while she’s at it, also scores a cool 91.5 per cent in her Class 10 or HSLC exams. On Friday morning, the Board of Secondary Education Assam, Guwahati declared the results of HSLC and Madrassa examinations: nearly, 3,44,215 students registered for the exam of which 1,89,191 passed.
One among them is Afrin who shot to fame when she emerged as the first-runner up in Indian Idol Junior 2015. In 2017 last year, the singer found herself in a bout of unpleasantness when 46 Muslim clerics apparently “issued a fatwa” against her singing at a local function in Assam’s Hojai. The national headline-making outrage that followed put Afrin in the harsh spotlight for a quite few days, leading the government to ensure police protection to the girl on the day of the event. Later it was confirmed that it was not a fatwa that was issued — but a pamphlet (which had no mention of Afrin’s name) asking people not to attend such events as it was “against the sharia.”
However, the fatwa, whether real or rumoured, still caused immense stress and was a grave cause of worry and concern to the young girl and her parents. “This happened at the most crucial academic period of my life,” she says, “I had just begun Class 10 and I needed to focus on my studies,” adding that she felt “mentally disturbed for almost a month” after the incident. “I didn’t even understand what was going on. I would cry often. The local media would show up at my school too,” she says.
But in the months that followed Afrin gradually got back into her regular routine, where she would start the day with a 5.30 am riyaaz, go to school, come back and study. “From September onwards, I changed my schedule around and fully began focusing on my studies,” she says. “What saw me through is music. Whenever I would get frustrated with my books, I would sing or listen to my favourite songs.”
Afrin, who has recently launched an album of 10 Oriya songs set to the music of Dr Bhupen Hazarika, was signed by record label Universal Music Live in 2015. “My managers and I handle my social media accounts together,” she says, “It’s never been a distraction for me since I have never been addicted.” The 16-year-old has a cell phone but since everyone at home uses it too, it is more like a “shared resource.”
Afrin plans to opt for the Science stream and will be shifting to Guwahati for further studies. “I am fascinated by the human body — and I hope to study medicine one day,” she says. Her busy lifestyle, which requires her to travel for concerts and recordings across Assam, India and sometimes even the world, does come in the way of school and at times, she remains absent for weeks at a stretch. But the teenage singer would not have it any other way. “Music has changed my life in more ways than one,” she says, “It has helped me grow as a person. It has helped me focus too. For most of my life, I was that girl who quietly sits surrounded by books on the corner of the bench. Things have changed,” she says.