Born in a family of nadaswaram vidwans, the five-year-old Ponnusamy began his musical journey under the guidance of his father and guru, the renowned M.P. Natesa Pillai. “I am the seventh generation of progeny taking to nadaswaram – the mangala vathyam (auspicious instrument) of the Tamils. In fact, my great grandfather M.K.M. Ponnusamy worked at Mysore Samasthanam and had written a research book on music. Such is the musical history of my family,” he narrates with pride.
As a child, he performed at the Meenakshi Temple from 4.30 in the morning until the ‘arthajama' puja ended at 8 in the evening. As they grew, the brothers became sought after and their diaries filled with kutcheri dates. “In fact, we exacted to the core to retain the name and fame which our grandfather and great grandfather Muthu Karuppa Pillai had earned,” he says. But a cinematic twist happened in their lives when they were performing at a wedding reception in Karaikudi. His uncle showed the letter from film director A.P. Nagarajan offering a chance to play nadaswaram in ‘Thillana Mohanambal'.
His determination and love for the instrument survived even the accident that took away his wife and his jaw and the sudden demise of his brother M.P.N. Sethuraman. "I did a plastic surgery to correct my smashed jaw and continued my musical journey," he coolly remarks. His secret formula is persistence and hard work. “I think of my every kutcheri as my maiden one. I want it to be perfect because expectations from rasikas soar high.”
The applause charges him up for the next concert, and he feels he still learns with every performance. He still practices for an hour or two every day. Remembering his brother, he says, "Except for the film, we had never had rehearsals for the past six decades. But ours was a good combo. My brother's voice was bold and mine was mild, comparatively.”
Mr. Ponnusamy continues to hope as "I am sure somebody in the family lineage will come to continue our family tradition."