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Present matters

CHITRA SWAMINATHAN

Basking in the love of his disciples and friends, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia talks of his strong will and passion.

Nobody ever loses touch with yesterday… the trials… But I hardly think or speak about them. It’s better to use that energy for this moment and the ones coming.

Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Crowdpuller: Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia.

The Mithaas (sweetness) of his bamboo reed apart, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia’s mischievousness too matches Lord Krishna’s. The world renowned flautist stole a bansuri at the age of five.

The story goes thus: A boy was passing by young Hari’s house playing the flute. Drawn by its sound, Hari followed him. After sometime when the boy put the flute down to drink water, Hari picked it up and fled. If not for that boy, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, son of an Allahabad-based wrestler, would have been punching blows. So you know, not just the hard musical training (against his father’s wishes), it’s also the athlete blood that gives him strength to carry on his melody trip.

His disciples, friends and admirers got together recently at Nehru Centre in Mumbai to celebrate his 70th birthday. Says Chaurasia, “I was not for it but my sishyas sprang a surprise when I returned from an overseas concert. I am the kind who likes to look ahead. And such occasions make you recall the past,” says the legendary musician in an interview. He continues, “Nobody ever loses touch with yesterday; the trials and turning points that have marked the journey. But I hardly think or speak about them. It’s better to use that energy for this moment and the ones coming.”

What he was deeply touched at the celebrations though, is the love of the people. “Imagine, setting aside their work to just come and wish me. It’s the biggest reward for your years of sadhana.”

We often hear that crowd at classical concerts is thinning. But artists such as Chaurasia still manage to draw a full house. “It’s the audience reaction that encourages me to play on. As long as they enjoy my music, I will enjoy it all the more. Believe me; they are thirsty for good and pure music.”

Annoyed with the misuse of the terms innovation and experiment by young musicians, he cautions, “If you tamper with musical values and give in to bizarre demands, you will be committing a musical harakiri. To present something new I cannot go up on the stage dancing. Sounds ridiculous, isn’t it? If you have the confidence and faith in yourself, you can score music for films (he has composed beautiful songs along with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma) and team up with the musicians of the West (he has performed with the likes of John Mclaughlin and Jethro Tull), yet excel in authentic classical music. But avoid patchwork presentations.”

Chaurasia feels the problem with most youngsters is the mad hurry to turn a performer after a half-baked training. “In this technology-driven world, there are still some things that are best done the traditional way. A robot can open the door, carry your bag and lay the table; can it teach you Indian classical music? I hope no whiz-kid is reading this,” he laughs aloud.

So the jet-setting flautist, who spends almost half-a-year in Holland as part of the Rotterdam Conservatory, realised the need to set up a gurukul. Situated in Versova (Mumbai), Chaurasia’s Vrindavan (the name of the gurukul) is where students with a passion for music live and learn sangeet free of cost. The students won’t come out of this gurukul armed with degrees and certificates. They will just have their talent to flaunt. Despite his hectic concert schedule, he takes time out to be with his students, guide and interact with them. “Though I stress on discipline; we laugh, crack jokes…there’s enough fun at Vrindavan. I share a good rapport with these youngsters.”

His second gurukul is coming up at Bhubaneshwar. “The progress has been really slow. Who wants to fund a gurukul?” But why Bhubaneswar? The maestro spent quite a few years in Cuttack working as a staff artiste for All India Radio. It is also where he met his wife Anuradha, then an established singer on radio.

It’s his strong will and undying passion that saw Chaurasia through the tough learning years. He lost his mother when young and his father was opposed to his taking up music. He would wrestle to please his father and learnt music on the sly from Pandit Rajaram, who lived next door. “Seeing my deep interest in the art, he took a lot of pain to groom me. But felt I didn’t have a voice to be a singer and suggested I take up an instrument.”

Chaurasia heard Pandit Bholanath playing the flute on radio and decided to learn to play the instrument from him. The fees: cutting vegetables and grinding spices. After almost eight years of training, he worked for some time in a government office before joining AIR, Cuttack. Chaurasia was later transferred to AIR Bombay but could not afford the cost of living, resigned the job and started working for film music directors such as Madan Mohan, S.D. Burman, Jaidev and Lakshmikant-Pyarelal.

Financially stable, he now yearned to get back to classical music and propagate it the world over. He found a dedicated guru in Annapurna Devi (Baba Allauddin Khan’s daughter and ex-wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar). “I had to plead with her to take me as a sishya. Once she did, my music found a new meaning. She would sing the ragas and teach. My biggest inspiration, I found in her both a perfect teacher and a loving mother,” says an emotionally charged Chaurasia.

So are we, listening to the life story of an artist, whose music can blow you off your feet.

Hooked for life



ACCOMPLISHED: (From left) Sonu Nigam, Surjit Singh, Amitabh Bachchan, Chaurasia and Jaya Bachchan at the release of the book, whose cover is specially designed.

Says Surjit Singh, who has penned “Woodwinds of Change,” a biography on Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, “I was 13, when I first heard him play the flute and got hooked to his music for life. He had come to Kolkata, where I am based, for a concert. Since then I have attended almost all his performances.

“Having watched this brilliant musician up-close on and off stage, I once expressed to Panditiji my desire to pen his biography. He agreed, but hardly found the time to sit and talk. I finally decided to go to Rotterdam. I spent three weeks taking notes for two hours every morning. During those sessions, he would often forget the year or details of important instances in his life. When I complained, he joked, ‘Had I known you will be writing a book on me, I would have maintained a diary.’ The book runs to 288 pages, including 16 pages of photographs.

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