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SEE: Why Modi should listen to this rickshaw driver

January 06, 2020 11:20 IST
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'The government is not doing anything for the people. They don't know that people foremost need jobs. Where there are no jobs available, you see the youth turning to crime,' says Chennai autorickshaw driver, singer and composer Parthasarathy.
Text, photograph, videos: A Ganesh Nadar/



In bustling Chennai, much like many other metros in the country, it is not easy to find an autorickshaw driver who will agree to take you to your destination without laying down a condition.

But if you are really lucky, you may bump into someone like Parthasarathy.

Born in Mylapore in Chennai, he was named after a popular temple deity.

It could be the place he was born in, but Parthasarathy loves music much as he loves to sing and compose.

He studied up to Class 9, but could not clear his SSC exam.

After trying many odd jobs -- he even worked for Puthiya Tamilagam, a Tamil television news channel for a few years -- before he settled on driving a rickshaw.

It was in 1994 when he joined the Ambedkar Narpani Mandram, a social welfare group in Chennai, that he realised he had a flair for singing.

Parthasarathy could easily tweak the verses of popular Tamil songs to suit the mood and occasion.

After joining the group, he changed his name to Isai Arasu, as he felt it was more appropriate for an artiste like him.

Arasu's inspiration to write songs comes from his own understanding of the events that occur around him.

One morning he watched a television news report which showed a slum being demolished and he instantly started writing.

"I saw a young mother waking up a baby and carrying him out of the hut, just before it got demolished. I was so moved I immediately composed a song to show the sorrow the mother must have felt to wake up the child to tell it they are destroying our home," he tells

Parthasarathy has also composed songs in the form of stories, like how the poor who built the city once lived on the outskirts in the slums.

The lack of amenities in slums form the theme in one of his songs.

Watch him sing one of his songs in the video below:


Though he doesn't belong to any particular party, both the Left parties and the Dalit parties call him to their protests. He sings songs at protests and his songs are always appropriate to the situation.

It is interesting how he observes the changes around him.

The autorickshaw driver feels that technology has destroyed human interaction.

"These apps like Uber and Ola, they have destroyed human interaction," he says. "We used to love talking to people, bargaining with them about fares before dropping them to their destination."

"Now there is no need to talk," he complains.

"The app gets you a vehicle and also tells you the fare. If you want to eat, you don't need to ask anyone. There is an app on which you can order food."

"These apps have destroyed interaction between people. As we stop interacting with others soon we will realise that there is no humanity left, there will be no sensitivity or feelings for others."

Parthasarathy may not be counting the protests he has been part of, but he understands the ground realities really well and connects the dots well.

"The government is not doing anything for the people. They don't know that people foremost need jobs. Where there are no jobs available, you see the youth turning to crime. See any chain or mobile snatcher, they are all youngsters less than 25 years old."

"The have-nots are snatching from the haves as they don't have jobs. To decrease crime the government must have policies that increase jobs."

Daily labourers are struggling without work and when schools are shut for four days, the children of poor parents are deprived of their noon meal in school which for them is normally the best meal of the day, he points out.

"The poorest slums in the city don't have any hospital or school nearby. They don't have a police station, a primary health centre or even a small clinic in their locality," Parthasarathy adds.

One of his songs on casteism and vote-bank politics is very popular. Watch him sing in the video below:


"What can I do? This is the only work I know. I have a wife and two children, I have to look after them and this is the only way I know," he says taking me to my destination.

Parthasarathy says he will continue writing and singing songs to enlighten people about the poor, but never once in his poems does he mention his struggles or good deeds.

"I know Ambani is not going to come and ride in my rickshaw. When I see that a person doesn't look well-off or is a desperate woman or child, I never insist on any particular fare, I take what they give and drop them where they want to go. That is all I can do to help people."

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A GANESH NADAR / in Chennai
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