Soorya Suresh talks very little. All his talent, it seems, comes out when he stands with a Chenda tied across his shoulder, a stick or two in his hands. The final year B.Sc. student has just been at his best during the recent Pongala celebrations in the capital. He has a certain love for the Chenda that began at the age of four and continues at 23. This tale is, however, mostly told by his dad, Suresh, who too had once been a percussionist, playing Tabla and Mridangam.
“When we first took him to learn percussion, he was too little and his hands wouldn’t reach the two ends of the instrument,” Suresh says. By the time Soorya turned four, Chenda master Kalamandalam Krishnadas had moved from Palakkad to Thiruvananthapuram. So the little boy went to learn under him and got all the inspiration he needed. “I was awed hearing the old tales when he used to walk ten kilometers with his guru for a performance and back. Today people think they can pick up in ten days what should be learnt in 10 years. But it is always hard work that pays,” says Soorya in the rare instance he spoke.
His dad then takes over, enthusiastically. “Soorya had won first prize for Tayambaka last year for the youth festival,” he says. Soorya has also been the one who got together 51 Chenda artists for the Ivanios Fest at his college, Mar Ivanios. “They did Panchari mela,” Suresh adds. Soorya has learnt Mela, Keli and Tayambaka in the nearly 20 years he has been going to his guru. “At first, he had to practise on stones, before an actual Chenda was used. He would come with many bruises but he never gave up. Lot of other kids did.” Growing up, Soorya did what his master once used to — he accompanied him for long-distance performances and slept on the floor. It’d seem the whole act is mighty difficult. The Chenda that Soorya hangs on his shoulders weighs 12 kg. “But because he is pretty strong built, the sound he makes can be heard from a long way,” the proud dad adds. His proudest moment had been when Soorya’s guru came home for lunch one day and told him he should be proud to have a son like Soorya.
Soorya says he is an average student as far as academics are concerned; his interest is in the art form. He wishes to work in civil service and carry on with his Chenda on the side. Like his dad, who used to play percussion even as he ran a petrol pump in Kanjirampara. At home there is an encouraging mother Malini and a younger sister Meenakshi, who loves to sing.