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Food to stay in fine fettle

"I make mutton do pyaaza very well. Also vegetable biryani. I make it with crushed carrots, potato and gobhi. I was born in U.P., so I make arhar dal well. I have an apron and everything for my cooking."


TALK OF body and soul, talk of food and music. Hindustani flautist Ronu Majumdar can see the parallels. As the ustad relaxes on a rare free day during a visit to New Delhi, at Le Belvedere, the restaurant in Le Meridien hotel, his conversation spans continents and topics with ease. People talk of the distance between common people and classical artistes, as if they belong to different planets. Both musicians and the media are responsible for creating this situation, he feels, with the former stiffly feeling "we are very special" and the latter propagating the idea that lay audiences don't go to classical music concerts because they don't understand the intricacies. "Actually, this is all just Indian music, whether ragas or folk. And those who chance to hear a recital of classical music become fans. You do not have to understand the technical points to enjoy music," he points out.

The lavish buffet at Le Belvedere changes every day, and if you can get your eyes off the food, the picture windows treat your eyes to a feast as well. The Capital looks green, cool and clean from up here. Ronu Majumdar is a healthy eater. That is not to be understood as one hung up on health food, but one who admits to a healthy appetite and knows that those who aspire to create the food of love, need to eat well, otherwise they will be unable to play on.

Being Bengali does not limit the ustad to fish and sandesh. Chicken with gravy, rice, a choice of breads and vegetable combinations on offer at Le Belvedere - his cosmopolitan palate is at home with them all. From soups and starters, through the main course to dessert, even the fussiest eater sampling this buffet would find something pleasing. But Ronu Majumdar wouldn't qualify as fussy, merely knowledgeable.

He is an accomplished cook, he reveals. "I make mutton do pyaaza very well. Also vegetable biryani. I make it with crushed carrots, potato and gobhi. I was born in U.P., so I make arhar dal well. I have an apron and everything for my cooking. This skill helps me a lot when I am touring Europe. I go straight to my organiser's house, and I cook there."

Playing the Indian bamboo flute requires plenty of physical stamina. The quality of tone depends on the flautist's voice, emanating from the throat, and on the lungs. "I do a lot of breathing exercises," he explains. The Yogic breathing being taught by popular guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar for example, he discovered, he had been doing all along. "If you play the flute, you have to do other exercises. I do a lot of bending and stretching," he discloses. The older musicians were physically active, like Kishan Maharaj, who was recognised as one of the best wrestlers in his region, recounts Ronu. "But life was different then," he adds. "There was not so much travelling. Air travel is very bad for the health."



IF FOOD BE THE MUSIC... Ronu Majumdar has a healthy take at Le Meridlen's Le Belvedere restaurant in New Delhi. - Photo: s Arneja.

Frankly stating that his rise has not been meteoric, he reflects on how hectic his touring schedules have now become, and the pros and cons of this lifestyle. "Zakir (Hussain) bhai is a good friend, and I discussed it with him. He advised me to do vajrasan and eat very lightly. Sometimes I only drink a glass of cold milk and eat fruit." This helps his body cope with the quickly changing time zones and climatic conditions.

Groomed in the musical traditions of the Maihar gharana, Ronu Majumdar has seen plenty of countries and worked with musicians of different genres. Recently a compilation of his music was produced by the BBC. But of all the countries whose music he has come across, he feels that Italy bears the greatest affinity to India. "In Italy, they have schools, like gharanas. This is especially true of their folk music. They treat the guru like a father. They have old traditions of music, both country music and classical, and of food also. They like food and music, just like Indians," he remarks, adding, "They also believe in binding family traditions."

Speaking of tradition, homeopathy is another tradition Ronu inherited, from his father, a homeopathic physician besides a well-known painter and flautist. "He tells me papaya is medicinal. And pineapple too." That explains the presence of these fruits on the flautist's dessert plate. But there is a dash of rabri too, and some ice cream. "Yes, it does contain fat, but then there is the question of temptation!"

ANJANA RAJAN

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