Madurai

This Dalit ends work days on a musical note

A. Ilangovan transforms into a ‘thavil’ vidwan.

A. Ilangovan transforms into a ‘thavil’ vidwan.  

Ilangovan cleans Madurai’s streets by day and plays the ‘thavil’ at dusk.

A. Ilangovan, a resident of the Dalit Colony at Vadapalanji near Madurai, has inherited both his day job and his passion. He wears two hats, continuing a family tradition in the fourth generation: clearing municipal waste by day and playing traditional music at dusk.

Mr. Ilangovan wears a khaki shirt and lungi at work, but by evening, transforms into a ‘thavil’ vidwan, complete with dhoti, silk shirt, sacred ash and red kumkum on forehead.

A school dropout, he was inspired by his father to play the famous musical instrument.

“I started playing music when I was 12 and learnt advanced lessons from my guru, Ramasamy, in Anna Nagar, Madurai,” says Mr. Ilangovan. He adopted the family’s twinned tradition – conservancy work – when his father, Arumugam, an employee of Madurai Corporation, died at 45. With that event, he inherited both family legacies: the job on compassionate grounds and the ‘thavil’. But he has no regrets. “Even today, I consider my job more important as my family has food on the table,” he says.

The day starts at 5.15 a.m. for Mr. Ilangovan, with an 18 km bike ride to the city. The job routine covering roads in Madurai Corporation’s West Zone is over by 1.30 p.m. He rides to the city again at 3 p.m. By 7 p.m., the worker has turned vidwan.

“I accept assignments only for auspicious occasions, that too when I am free. I am never absent from work,” he says.

His tryst with the ‘thavil’ has taken him places, including Mumbai, for Ganesh Chaturthi; Kulasekarapattinam, during Dasara; Tiruchendur and Chennai.

At 44, the conservancy worker is a grandfather, and wants the next generation to carry the musical tradition forward. His eight-year-old nephew, Lokesh, shows promise as his disciple.

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Printable version | Jun 6, 2020 10:43:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/This-Dalit-ends-work-days-on-a-musical-note/article14620236.ece

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