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Her life reflects reel life tragedy

By R. Ilangovan

MADURAI MARCH 29. A deep sense of solitude engulfs her. Exhaustion and weakness are discernible in her heavily wrinkled face. Time was never her ally and with fame came tragedy too.

For the Dalit folk singer, `Kollangudi' Karupayee, who acted in a few popular Tamil films, life is an enactment of reel life. This unlettered `Kalaimamani,' who does not know her age (must be around 60), lives, all alone, in a nondescript tiled house in the Dalit colony of Kollangudi village in Sivaganga district, on a meagre government stipend of Rs. 500.

This under-appreciated artiste, who stunned `Kollywood' with her `songs of the soil' from Kollangudi, is now sick.

The only solace for her is her relatives and Dalit youths of the village who `iconise' her. "She is our pride," they say.

When she was young, fame eluded her. She and her husband struggled through as farm workers.

"But we lived a contented life", whose sweet recollection brought a spark in her eyes. "My husband respected me. He never called me by my name. Instead, he used to call me `amma'. In her teens, the young Karupayee was quick to grasp all folk songs, sung by those who worked in the fields to forget the rigours of toil.

Her voice, which was without blemish, came to her support. She became an expert in folk singing. Neighbouring villages started recognising her. "But I never went to any festival which did not honour folk songs." A team from the All-India Radio identified her and exposed her to the outside world. Since then she became a regular singer for AIR programmes.

Then came the call from Kollywood. The first film she acted was a roaring success for which she received about Rs. 20,000. (She could not remember the exact amount.) And with that came fame and recognition. She signed a few other films too.

But she was not paid as expected. "I and my husband did not insist."

Then the tragedy struck. Her husband died in a road accident before her eyes when the couple were going to Madurai for an AIR programme.

"We could not live a life worth mentioning in our youth. When everything became rosy at the fag end of our life, fate played a cruel game."

The shock rendered her bedridden for a long time. Her savings were spent on medical treatment.

She confined herself to her house and shunned offers. Just when was about to overcome her `forced obscurity', her daughter died this year in a road accident at Kollangudi. "God has plucked away all my supports."

"I have been close to death. Hence it never frightens me." Those who brought her to the tinsel world never permitted her to record her voice.

Had she been permitted, she would have been ensured of steady income.

A Madurai-based youth, who met her recently, requested her to give him ten of her songs for recording. "I gave him ten folk songs to be recorded in a cassette as he called me `amma' (mother)." He gave her a one-time payment of Rs. 5,000.

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