10 years on, flautist enthrals Colombo audience; shares his thoughts on music, Guru, shishyas

At 74, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, wrestler-turned-stenographer-turned flautist, may have found it difficult to climb the few steps at India House in Colombo, but he is nowhere near putting down his bansuri. His two institutions of music, his hectic tour schedule and his occasional film music keep his calendar overflowing.

“I will play till my last breath…Hum tho sangeeth ke poojari hain. Sangeeth hamara jeevan hai. Hamara dharam hai [I am a worshipper of music. Music is my life. Music is my religion],” he asserts in an unscheduled interview at India House, residence of the Indian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka.

Pandit Chaurasia was here to perform at the Colombo Music Festival. The biggest hall in town, Neelam Pokuna, was filled to capacity as he played jhinjhoti and pahari ragas, followed by light music.

For more than an hour, the audience sat spellbound. “I am coming here after more than 10 years,” he told me. Does he notice any difference in Colombo?

“Yes, yes. I could sense fear then. Now, I don’t see it,” he says.

Helped by friends in India, I posed very basic questions for him: Why did you select flute? His answer: “Flute is a simple, straight-forward and sacred instrument. Bamboo is from nature. There’s nothing pretentious in it. A piece of bamboo, with no artificial additions, can produce such a unique sound; it can only do so because of divine blessings. And, this, only Bhagwan Sri Krishna can conjure up. Doosara bhagwan ke akal mein aayega bhi nahi. Kyonki who log mostly politicians the. [No other God can even think of something like this because they were mostly politicians].” There is also a practical reason for selecting flute: it is a simple instrument to maintain. “For instance, if I had an instrument like the sitar, there is a possibility that the strings break. Then, I will have to replace it. A flute has no such issues,” he says.

Asked about his exercise routine, he said playing the flute itself was a great exercise. There was no need for any yoga or other kinds of physical conditioning methods. He abhors dietary restrictions too. “What’s the need for a diet? I am not a saint.”

Is the guru still important for learning music? Yes, he insists. “Music has to be learnt from a guru. Even if your parents are around, you still need a guru. Parents are more business-minded than the guru. As a general rule, parents want to train their sons as doctors or engineers or in careers where there is good money to be made. No parent would want to say, ‘let me make my son Sachin Tendulkar. Let him play cricket.’ This is because parents want benefits out of children. I also made my father happy, by working as a stenographer. I had to do it.” Is an individual style a definitive requirement for a musician? “No, not really,” he says.

“I never thought of a style of my own. I had thought I need an identification, or pehchan. I only follow my guru. If the guru has filled me with so much, then I can look for styles.”

His thoughts on fusion music? [He has collaborated with western musicians too]: “We eat roti sabzi every day. Now, why not coca cola and roti? Dekhen kya taste hota hai [Let us see what it tastes like].” Then as an afterthought, he adds: “Thoda saa pagalpan hai [It’s a little mad]. Can we change the skies? Can you change the moon? So, don’t play with nature. You cannot improve on the beauty. Identity is important. When we cannot change nature, why attempt to change music through fusion?”

On his flirting with movies — with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, he says he has so far composed music for 27 movies. “This is my hobby; not my business. We are in Mumbai. So, why not? We will reach the hearts of those who like film music too. I feel good,” he says.

Asked if there is still an audience for classical music, he says there is, and this audience is increasing.

“Youngsters are flocking to shows and they respect and revere musicians. Thanks to organisations such as SPICMACAY, there is huge interest in classical music.”

Asked if his sishyas also put in the same kind of effort into their music as he does, he said he shares all that he learns with the younger generation. “Youngsters have responded and have risen to the occasion. I do not call them my sishyas. They are part of my family. They surrender to us, live with us in the gurukul and learn there. If I consider them as mere sishyas, it cannot work. They live with me, they consider it their home, their temple.” In Pandit Chaurasia’s gurukul, students don’t pay a fee.

His advice to youngsters: “Don’t need to become a performer, become a listener. It will give you strength. Musical temperament makes you happy and healthy. Every day, listen to music at least for five minutes.”

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