A Chennai autorickshaw driver with a song on his lips

Chennaiyila vasika namakku edamilla, singara chennai yarruku theriyala — We don’t have a place to live in Chennai, Who is Singara Chennai then for, hums 42-year-old autorickshaw driver Isai Arasu sitting in his vehicle in Adyar, while waiting for a passenger.

Despite being burdened by personal issues, including a teenage daughter who is ill, this autorickshaw driver composes folk songs and sings them in public to create awareness about social issues including untouchability and resettlement. To date, he has over five compositions of his own and this apart, he also takes film songs and changes their lyrics to highlight current social issues.

“I understood the impact that music can have by listening to my father singing lullabies for my little brother. He used to sing Oppari to vent out the pain he experienced in daily life due to poverty. I also became fond of the medium by listening to people in my father’s village sing, and even more after listening to Illayaraja’s songs,” says Mr. Isai Arasu.


Born and brought up in Ambedkar Nagar in Mylapore, Mr. Arasu was always plagued by problems. “Many years ago, some youngsters in my locality formed a small organisation to voice our needs. Then, I used sing the lines of Tamil poet and dramatist Inquilab. My favourite was Manusangada Naanga Manusangada,” he recalls.

Subsequently many left-slanting political parties used to call him to sing songs during protests. “Now I am not affiliated to any political party. I merely wish to express the anguish of the voiceless communities in the State through my songs,” he adds.

He composed the song – Chennaiyila vasika namakku edamilla, singara chennai yarruku theriyala – upon seeing the plight of people living along a canal in Todd Hunter Nagar. He comes up with songs on the spot when he visits eviction sites and sings them to the public.

“The existence of these people itself is not recognised. I upload these songs on social media and the youngsters who see it are becoming more aware of their rights. I also sing to my passengers and many liked it when I composed songs during demonetisation,” he explains.

However, this autorickshaw driver’s life itself is in great turmoil. “I earn ₹500 per day and I have to save it for my daughter’s treatment. But event that does not deter me from working for people,” says Mr. Arasu, before driving away with a passenger and humming a song for him.

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