Striking Hard To Make Grievances Heard
A change can be brought through many mediums. And perhaps the most beneficial of all could be the medium of art. J K Satheesh started learning ‘Chenda’ in 1991. Overtime, he realized the importance it had in the cultural scene of the state and the magnitude of hidden possibilities it has in transforming the lives of financially backward families similar to his own in his place of residence, the Chengalchoola colony. The Highness Samskarika Samithi ensued as a result of this in the latter months of the year 2005.
“The kids in this colony have a natural talent in gaining proficiency in the field of arts. My intention was to create for them a platform where they could learn how to perform a ‘chenda melam’, at the same time give the professional players a fixed amount every month through the samithi,” says J K Satheesh.
Highness Samskarika Samithi gives free training to all children belonging to financially backward homes from the colony and from elsewhere in performing ‘chenda melam’. The list of members crosses 200 in number; from them J K Satheesh selects a team to perform in various cultural activities.
“We have lost the count of programmes for which we have performed. Highness Samskarika Samithi is the only ‘chenda melam’ group exclusive to Trivandrum. Before we came into this field, teams from Guruvayur and other places up north had to be brought in to perform for the festivals and such. Right now, we are an indispensable factor in almost any cultural program organised by the government. It is through the income generated from these performances that the samithi is meeting its expenses.”
For one of the limited exclusive ‘chenda melam’ groups in south Kerala, Highness Samskarika Samithi functions in a thatched hut inside the colony. As has been well documented through Yentha, ‘Chengal choola’ colony probably is the most neglected place in the entire city of Trivandrum. Being a resident of the colony, J K Satheeshan and the Highness Samskarika Samithi too naturally would have to take their share of neglect from the government.
“They (government) have got various funds for the upgradation of various arts and art groups. But we have always been neglected by the authorities just because we hail from the defamed Chengalchoola colony. If we approach for a loan or anything, the funny thing is that they would never say no to us, as they haven't got the provision to do that, but instead, thrust forward complications on our way, complications which they know we can't resolve. Instead of saying no, they make us run after an unreal promise until we can't run any longer.”
If the government is not willing to help them out, the question of private funding through well wishers never arises.
“It is all because of the notoriety caused to this colony by an earlier generation, and we are the ones who have to suffer the wrath. Things needed to change. People and the government need to understand that we have children and young people here, who are talented in every department of life.”
Unlike most people who believe in their doing good, J K Satheesh very humbly makes it clear that he needs to earn a name for himself and that he needs to acquire fame through his ability to usher in the change he is trying to for the people of his colony.
“A name brings attention and attention is what we need to create opportunities to improve.”
To acquire this name J K Satheesh played ‘chenda’ continuously for a period of 48 hours in the year 2005, just before the samithi was formed.
“I did that through august 11, 12 and 13 at VJT hall in 2005. It was covered by all major channels at that time. I was trying for a Guiness record. But we never actually received any support from any of the authorities or other organizations and hence my effort was never validated.”
Still J K Satheesh assures that he is ready to do it again when required, if given ample time for preparation.
J K Satheesh and his team from Highness Samskarika Samithi have been performing for cultural activities organized by the government since 2005. Yet, when he heard the ‘chenda melam’ performed in the north of the state, like in Guruvayur, J K Satheesh has no issues about acknowledging the fact that their standards were a class above. But instead of seeking civer behind excuses and explanations, J K Satheesh boldly stepped forward to learn it from the best. Through Prakash Marar, son of ‘chenda’ legend Appukuttan Marar, who happened to be an acquaintance, J K Satheesh acquired the service of recognized names for teaching the samithi the true form of ‘chenda melam’.
The practice is going on in full swing at the small samithi room at the colony. The team would be making its debut in proper ‘chenda melam’ performance on November 1 at the E K Nayanar Hall, East Fort.
“When we become proficient in the northern style of ‘chenda melam’ which is the proper kind of melam, we would be the only team able to do so in Trivandrum. Then the government and the people will have no choice but to recognize us and appreciate us.”
But that's only an appetizer to what J K Satheesh has in mind. He is reluctant to give out all the details because there is a 'couple more things to be done'. The clues he gave, however give an idea of the magnitude of his plans. "It would have 200 chenda artists performing at a time," and that an estimated cost of Rs.40 lakhs is involved in the project.
“We have approached various departments such as the art and culture and the tourism departments to provide us with funds. If they won't aid us in any way, I will make the money myself, even if I have to beg for it. But the plan would be realized and things are going to change,” he ends with undeterred optimism.
J K Satheesh started Highness Samskarika Samithi to provide opportunities for the colony kids and young men to study a culturally relevant form of art free of cost, which would earn them some money as well as improving the morale of the upcoming generation. J K Satheesh always has some of the more reputed names to come and teach the members of the samithi at the expense of the samithi funds. By performing for the various programs he is striving hard to improve the facilities present inside the hut which is the samithi's office, classroom, and store room all in one. And by improving the samithi and by making it bigger he wants to garner the attention of the outside world to his neglected dilapidated colony for bringing forth a change that would have atleast the coming generation of this colony live with all the respect and status that the people of this colony deserve as citizens of this city, just like everyone else.
If J K Satheesh succeeds in realizing his motives, he might no longer be an 'unsung hero', but a hero who would be recognized and whose hard work would be acknowledged and appreciated by an entire population.
By Mukesh Venu