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From Padma Shri to labourer: The untold struggles of Darshanam Mogilaiah



From Padma Shri to labourer: The untold struggles of Darshanam Mogilaiah

Padma Shri awardee Darshanam Mogilaiah finds himself grappling with unexpected challenges, with his life taking a starkly different turn since receiving the prestigious accolade two years ago.

Renowned for his kinnera artistry, Mogilaiah, adorned in his customary maroon shawl over a white shirt and mundu, cuts a familiar figure in Hyderabad. Amidst the adoration of fans chanting his name or humming the Pawan Kalyan theme song, he graciously obliges requests for selfies and engages in conversations with curious onlookers. Yet, beneath the surface of his warm interactions lies a poignant tale of financial hardship.

Despite his local celebrity status, Mogilaiah, now 69, has not found the financial security he had hoped for. His plight mirrors that of other unrecognized champions, such as Olympian Sita Sahu resorting to selling gol gappas or medallist runner Meraj Ali taking up manual labour. The fleeting outrage over their predicaments often fades, leaving them to grapple with their challenges alone.

Just days before the 2024 Padma Shri awards, news emerged that Mogilaiah was toiling as a daily wage labourer at a construction site to make ends meet. Despite the prestige of the award bestowed upon him in 2022, his artistry has failed to provide a sustainable livelihood, exacerbated by a series of family health issues.

As the last remaining kinnera player in India, Mogilaiah harbours hopes of passing on his family legacy to his son, Mahender. However, Mahender’s battle with seizures necessitates expensive medication, adding to the family’s financial burdens. Mogilaiah’s recent visit to Hyderabad was not for a musical engagement but to procure medication for his son, symbolizing the stark reality of his existence.

For over two decades, Mogilaiah has juggled his artistic pursuits with laborious jobs at construction sites across various cities. Despite receiving a grant of Rs 1 crore from the Telangana government post his Padma Shri win and promises of land allocation, financial stability has remained elusive. The construction of an additional floor on his house, funded by the grant, lies incomplete due to financial constraints.

With nine family members dependent on him, including Mahender, who battles epilepsy, and Mogilaiah himself grappling with health issues, the burden of survival weighs heavily on him. Despite occasional support from individuals like Dr. KV Ramanachary, former cultural advisor to the Telangana government, Mogilaiah’s financial woes persist.

Though Mogilaiah has revolutionized the kinnera, a string instrument tracing its roots to tribal and Dalit communities, his artistic endeavours have not translated into economic security. Despite the recognition and respect he commands, Mogilaiah remains ensnared in the cycle of financial instability, reminiscent of the struggles faced by ordinary individuals.

Before bidding farewell to Hyderabad, Mogilaiah’s act of feeding pigeons serves as a poignant metaphor for his desire to soar above his troubles. “Mogilaiah is like the birds, and the birds are like Mogilaiah,” he muses, scattering grains. “I too want to fly free in the skies without any troubles. And they too need to be fed.”