Sitar maestro Debu Chaudhuri on life’s sweet blessings
When you think of ice cream, cold coffee and all the chilled temptations of summer, do you think of youngsters in short skirts and capris? Not always. Stereotypes, as we know, are the enemy of learning. Debu Chaudhuri knows it too. That is why the sitar maestro, clad in a white kurta, a tikka on his forehead and looking every inch the classical musician, is delighted to walk into Gelato Vittorio, the Italian frozen dessert bar in M Block Market, Greater Kailash-I, to try out the icy goodies on offer.
“This is a fantastic idea, unique!” exclaims the veteran musician about the bar, run by designer and restaurateur Vijay Arora.
What particularly intrigues him and his son, sitar exponent Prateek, is the live preparation counter, a stone slab. Somewhat like a live grill, only it is set to sub-zero temperature to make sure the gelatos stay frozen while being combined into a blend of your choice. Gelato, the Italian word for ice cream, is distinctive because it is made from natural ingredients, with no synthetic flavours, and only four per cent fat content.
Gelato and music are not the only things the Chaudhuris revel in. Pandit Debu Chaudhuri savours life’s blessings. “I like to eat, to travel,” says the maestro whose 17-fret sitar has taken him across the world. “At this age, I have no restrictions, and that is a blessing. When I came from Kolkata, I came with nothing. Those were days of struggle. I came with nothing but blessings.”
A Fruit Fantasy arrives, truly a dream dessert with a mixture of gelato flavours and fresh fruits in a tall glass bowl. “It is so beautiful, how can you eat it?” he wonders, and returns to the topic of blessings. “I didn’t inherit money from my father. But he didn’t have blood sugar, and I inherited that from him. Otherwise, people my age have blood sugar and all kinds of other problems.”
At over 70, he may not be a prisoner of habit, but not all artistes are as lucky. “In 1969 I took a tabla player with me to London. He would force me to go 10 miles, 12 miles to find a paan shop!” The maestro believes in adapting. “I have stayed in the Hilton, and also been put up in people’s houses. Wherever I went, I made myself comfortable. If you cannot adapt to the situation, you should not go abroad,” he emphasises. “The only thing is, I don’t eat beef, but you can always get chicken. And sandwiches are available everywhere.”
Prateek, an admitted ice cream fan, and his father have enjoyed the creamy Fruit Fantasy. “Yeh to dinner ho gaya,” exclaims the father.
The stage is not the only place Debu shines. No mean cook, he recalls, “I was on the TV programme Khatir. I made chicken.” He relishes the kind of fame the television appearance brought him. “Once someone in a shop said, ‘You cook. Oh, do you play the sitar too?’”
As a young man, Debu’s cooking talent landed him in trouble with the wife of his guru, Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan. “My guru’s wife was a great cook. And he would never eat outside the home, but once he asked me to make chicken for him. He liked it so much, he went home and told his wife.”
On his next visit to his guru’s home, he was greeted with, “What have you done to my husband?” and before he knew it, the nervous shishya was preparing the dish before her careful eyes.
Most musicians love to eat good food and are good cooks too, he feels. “It is an art,” he avers. “Some people cook very quickly. I take too long. And I need two assistants.”
Yes, agrees Prateek. “Madad karne waale ka bura haal ho jaata hai. (The assistant is the sufferer.”)
Prateek likes to cook too, but owns over a dozen cookbooks. As for dad, his philosophy is, “Put in the best ingredients and the food is bound to be good.”
You’ve got to hand it to our art theoreticians. They coined the same Sanskrit word for taste as for aesthetic enjoyment. Three cheers, then, for rasa!ANJANA RAJAN