'Fusion is not just mere confusion'

You might have seen her on Page 3, looking elegant and self-assured in her designer clothes and exclusive jewellery. More frequently, though, you can see veena-player Suma Sudhindra on the best-known classical music platforms of the country wowing audiences and critics alike.

This much-acclaimed musician who dazzles with her virtuosity and range whenever she performs is also credited with a new form of concert-worthy veena called Tarangini Veena for which she has a patent. Suma is Founder-Director of Tarangini Arts Foundation –– a centre for veena-teaching and training and research into classical music. Besides, she is President of Chowdiah Memorial Hall, and runs her own event-management company too. She is married to a doctor and is a mother of two daughters. In between, Suma also finds time for her daily fitness regimen and bonsai hobby. To our admiring remark on her multi-tasking skills, she replies: “I believe it’s possible for a woman to achieve success both at home and in a career if she really wants to. There is way if you have the will. When you really want to succeed you will just do it and not give excuses.”

Her own career path is an example of how she pursued excellence with single-minded zeal and hard work. After initial veena lessons from Raja Rao in Bangalore, she resolved to perfect her knowledge. So, she sought out C Chittibabu, the renowned veena-exponent from Andhra Pradesh, who had by then settled in Chennai. 

Suma was already 20 then, and had begun performing but as she says: “Chittibabu opened up a whole new world of knowledge for me.” He honed her talent, taught her the higher values and intricacies of veena-play, and trained her in good concert paddhati. Since Chittibabu was already a legend by then, many famous musicians were regular visitors to his home and Suma benefited enormously from this exposure.
Soon, she was playing along with her guru and later solo. With her talent being increasingly noticed, Suma began performing all over India and abroad. She began releasing her own albums too.

Carnatic-jazz

Suma who began doing fusion music with western-music artistes from the beginning of her career is a leader of Megha, an East-West ensemble which plays Carnatic-Jazz. Suma disagrees with the general opinion of some critics and artistes that fusion is confusion. “When established artistes do fusion music, it is not a random, unthinking mix. We draw on the best traditions of our respective genres to produce the best effect. And fusion is also educative and enriching as we absorb the best features from each other’s music. Finally, it broadens one’s musical horizons when one plays with artistes from a totally different stream.” 

Unique instrument

Suma’s most significant contribution and the highlight of her musical career, as she herself says, is Tarangini Veena, a unique instrument and an innovation on the traditional Saraswati veena. The Tarangini veena uses Nandi wood and significantly, does not have a kodam (acoustic resonator) since magnetic pick-ups perform this function. This also makes its appearance very different from the standard veena. Pegs are also dispensed with and guitar keys used  for shruti stability.

The wax base for frets is absent, so there is no frequent need to adjust melam. Finally, the Tarangini veena is light and portable and thus easy to carry when travelling, reveals Suma. “My years of experience and expertise with the traditional veena and expectations from it made me evolve this new instrument. It took years of research, keen observation of other stringed instruments, and endless trail and error. But the fact that Tarangini’s sound remains just as good or even better and that it has received acceptance from critics and audiences has made it worth the effort.” 

“Being in the right place at the right time  is vital for a performing artiste. These things are not in our hands––it is God’s grace which enables it,” she concludes.

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