His is a story of a talent that shone through despite the most adverse circumstances. 

Haldhar Nag, who hails from western Odisha, is a much-loved poet in Kosli language. What makes him special, though, is the fact that Nag is barely schooled and struggled most of his life to make ends meet. Thanks to his gift of poetry, however, Nag boasts of five PhDs based on him, and his work is taught at universities. 

On Monday, the 66-year-old was honoured with a Padma Shri by the president in a star-studded ceremony.

b’Source: Twitter’

Here’s a look at his life story that is bound to serve as an inspiration to many:

Nag was born in 1950 in a poor family of Ghens in Bargarh district of Odisha. He was just 10 years of age when his father passed away, forcing him to quit school after Class 3. He worked as a dishwasher at a local sweet shop to help the family.

“Life of a widow’s child was tough,” Nag told The Times of India.

Two years later, a village senior helped him get a cook’s job at a school, where he worked for 16 years. Later, he opened a stationery shop.

“But soon, a number of schools came up in the area. I approached a banker and got Rs 1,000 loan to start a small shop selling stationeries and eatables for school students,” Nag told TOI.

During this period, Nag wrote his first poem titled ‘Dhodo Bargachh’ (The Old Banyan Tree) in 1990. This was published in a local magazine. In fact, the magazine went on to publish three more poems that Nag sent. 

“I was felicitated and that encouraged me to write more. I started touring nearby villages to recite my poems and got huge response,” he told the paper.

About Nag, this is what a close associate told TOI: “He remembers whatever he writes and has been reciting them. You just need to mention the name or subject. He never misses anything. Now he attends at least three to four programmes every day to recite his poems…It’s great to see the huge interest of young people in poems in Kosli. Everyone is a poet, but only a few have the art of giving them shape.”

The report says Nag has never worn any footwear in life, and is always seen wearing a white dhoti and a vest. “I feel free in this attire,” he says.

While five research scholars have based their work on the poet, the Sambalpur University in Odisha is going to soon release a compilation of his writings, which will also be taught in the university.