How rapper from Odisha’s Kalahandi is ‘telling the truth’ about migrants
A 27-year-old Dalit migrant worker of Odisha’s Kalahandi district has become the talk of the town with his rap songs on migrant workers.
With his songs going viral, Duleswar Tandi, a science graduate from Kalahandi district and a migrant worker, is being compared to the character played by Bollywood actor Ranveer Singh in the 2019 Hindi film Gully Boy.
Tandi, who wiped tables and washed plates at the Raipur hotel for a living, had come back to his mudhouse at Borda village in March just a day before the nationwide lockdown was announced.
“As I watched the Covid cases grow in China, US and European countries, I could sense that it was a matter of weeks before the virus arrived in India. So I decided to come back,” said Tandi.
But several of his friends in the nearby villages who worked in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka could not return for more than a month. Many of them returned a couple of months later, some by hopping onto a bus or walking or by cycling. Sitting at home, without work, and seeing the videos of migrant workers travelling in pitiable condition stoked the inner rage of Tandi.
After coming back, Tandi, who goes by the nickname of Rapper Dule Rocker in Kalahandi, did a 2.45 minute rap video called “Telling the Truth” in which he vents out his angst against the politicians. In May, Tandi made a 3.5 minute rap video called “Sun Sarkar, Sat Katha” in which he narrated how the migrant workers got a rude jolt by the virus and the subsequent distress.
“In that video I rapped about how the migrant workers who had saved their hard-earned money lost everything and they lost everything in a matter of days after the factories and construction sites were closed due to lockdown. All that the leaders were doing were giving us sermons instead of helping the migrant workers. I was angry and so wrote down the rap song,” said Tandi, who first migrated out for work soon after completing his BSc degree in chemistry from a government college in Kalahandi in 2013.
With the two acres of land mortgaged with a bank in 2014 for Rs 50, 000 in the year 2014, when his mother had to undergo a surgery in a hospital in Visakhapatnam, Tandi said he had no other way than to go out for work. He initially wanted to be a doctor, but had to give it up due to his family’s financial conditions. He then started giving tuitions in Borda village, but found the income too meagre to sustain and had to leave for other states. In 2017, his father, Nilamani Tandi, a farmer and local police station assistant, passed away.
Though getting two square meals was difficult for Tandi, the Dalit boy had set his heart in rap music since his college days. “When I used to write lyrics for rap music, everyone used to dissuade me. Everyone used to say what would you gain out of it. But in my heart I knew that I wanted to be a rapper,” he said.
In 2014, someone from Punjab saw one of his rap videos on Facebook and called him to perform at Chandigarh. “It was a new experience for me as I performed in different competitions,” he said. In 2015, he came to Bhubaneswar and visited studios, channels for making the videos. However, no one helped him as he did not have the money required to make slick rap videos. “One needs at least Rs 50,000 for making each such rap video, which I did not have. So I decided to stick to making the videos on my mobile phone,” he said.
The rap songs on migrants that Tandi composed during lockdown have slowly become popular. After hearing his songs, Odia singer Humane Sagar recently gave Rs 30,000 to him. A local recording studio recently called him expressing an interest in recording his music.
The Dalit youth insists that his rap songs would be about common people and their hardships. “I don’t want to promote sleaze or liquor in my songs. Migrant workers like us have too many issues. Those things would find a place in my songs,” he said.