Hariprasad Chaurasia feels if there is one thing musicians are more fond of than music, it must be food
The India International Centre is a peaceful place. If ever there is excitement among its emerald lawns and swaying dahlias it is a delighted buzz, usually generated when a well known classical dancer, musician or scholar is spotted walking its neat pathways. In this haven for the culture aficionado and intellectual, pandits and not film stars are the head turners.
It is on a still day in April, when the sun has begun showing its stuff, that Hindustani flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia similarly turns heads on the IIC grounds as he strides the lawns, belying the image of an aging but beloved star that has been cultivated by his stage appearances where he can no longer sit cross legged to perform, the seating arrangement making him look frail, even if contradicted by the stalwart tones that emerge from his instrument.
Panditji is in the Capital on the occasion of the release of “Bansuri Guru”, a documentary on him directed by his son Rajeev Chaurasia. It is set to be screened under PVR Cinemas’ ‘Director’s Rare’ banner from April 12 in selected theatres across Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Allahabad and Pune.
We move to IIC’s lounge, which is exclusively for members and guests. There is just time for a little afternoon tea and chat before Panditji rushes to his next appointment – a recording at the All India Radio studios. The veteran is in a jocular mood.
“Oh yes,” he exclaims, “I will have tea. Chai to loonga, aur samosa bhi loonga.” Circumventing the menu, he foregoes any lofty sounding snacks like twists or cucumber sandwiches by asking for samosas.
In its scientific role, food may be central to everyone’s life, but with classical musicians there seems to be a kind of art link too. Great musicians are usually well informed about food, interested in its rich variety and many are also adept at cooking.
“Oh yes,” agrees Panditji, “I feel if an artiste is attached to one thing other than music – it is food.”
He recalls once visiting the wife of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan the legendary Hindustani vocalist. “Khan saheb was not alive then. His wife greeted me and said have something to eat, and she brought me an omelette made of 12 eggs. I said how can I eat such a large omelette! And she said, ‘Arey, hamaare huzoor to 24 andey ka khaate thhe.’ That is how it was in those days, good food, rich food.”
So food is an important element of life, he goes on. “Especially in India. Our mother kneads the dough for chapatis, prepares the food with love….” He feels the elaborate traditions associated with food preparation and serving add to its significance. “Nowadays, it’s all plastic-wrapped, readymade,” he remarks.
When he speaks of food it is with involvement and a certain delight. The fragrant Darjeeling tea arrives, and he jokes, “That’s all fine, but where are the samosas?”
As a world travelled performer, he is used to the seesawing of time zones, the sleeping and mealtime patterns that turn topsy-turvy when evening concerts go on till late, or even through the night.
Eating a hearty meal late at night is considered harmful for the health. “It is the wrong time. But that is when you feel really hungry, after playing for hours. Also, in many places you may not be able to get anything to eat at that late hour. So what I do is always to keep some milk and brown bread in the fridge. If nothing else is available, I pour out a bowl of milk, break the bread into it, top it up with some honey…ah ha ha, what more do you need?”
It is obvious he has great appreciation for the immense pleasure that comes with the fulfilment of basic needs at the right time. The piping hot samosa arrives just in time too, and he is generous in his praise for the savoury snack.
The recipient of numerous honours and titles including the Padma Vibhushan and the Sangeet Natak Akademy Ratna (Fellow) loves Indian food of all kinds.
When he goes abroad – apart from his concert schedule, there is his position as Artistic Director of the Netherlands – he has fans and friends to see to his needs.
“I feel there is no better breakfast than idli, dosai, sambar and chutney,” he declares. “Once these are available, who needs bread and omelette.”
A vegetarian in his childhood years, he turned non-vegetarian when he got posted to Orissa as a flute artiste of All India Radio. “When I went to Cuttack to work, there was so much fish, and I was young too, so I adapted.”
Yet his meal of choice remains the traditional Uttar Pradesh fare: “Dal with ghee in it, baingan-aloo ki sabzi, sookhi roti, achar, dahi – ah ha ha!”
Watching him relish the very thought, you can well believe him when he says that when he watches Vinod Dua on his food journey on NDTV, his mouth waters!
The flute and Krishna are synonymous in the Indian psyche. The maestro remembers another incident. “When Rukmini Devi Arundale invited me to perform a concert at Kalakshetra – what a lady she was, she expanded the horizons of art! – she fed me with her own hands. She said, come Krishna, let me feed you!”