The bond with bansuri

The story of Hariprasad Chaurasia, whois among the most celebrated classical musicians.

He is not a typical maestro — reticent, with an impregnable aura and hard to please. His bansuri has echoed through ritzy auditoria, prominent global festivals, small Indian towns and recording studios. The old and new finds the most evocative juxtaposition in his modest bamboo reed.

But all these hardly cross your mind when you see the 78-year-old Hariprasad Chaurasia alight from the car and walk casually in the heavy drizzle before the Barkha Ritu concert recently. Clad in elegant silk dhoti-kurta and angavastra, he greets his admirers with a broad smile as he enters the venue (Sivagami Pethachi), showing no trace of a frenetic performance schedule. He quickly closets himself in the small green room for a pre-recital discussion with his accompanists. And when he finally emerges on the stage, he lets the audience experience the intensity of the bansuri’s tone and the haunting melody of his raga-play.

At the end of almost 120 minutes of non-stop blowing, he draws a magnificent visual of snow-clad mountains with his characteristic Pahadi. Back in the green room, he is ready to talk about “the difficulty he faced in reaching the upper octave of his musical career”; it’s not easy” he reminds you, amidst constant requests for photographs and blessings.

“You don’t know how happy I am to be playing a solo concert in this city. It’s after a gap of ten years,” he says, opening a box of scented betel nuts. “You people are not calling me often. Where can I get such an audience, who identify the raga even before you launch into a full-fledged alaap. Amazing music lovers. The best part is you have not lost touch with your dharohar despite the demands of the time.”

He is also delighted that the performance coincided with the centenary birth anniversary celebration of M.S. Subbulakshmi. “I have met her when I was working at All India Radio, Cuttack. A divine voice that left a lasting impression on me like it did on several others,” he says.

And then quickly adds that it’s the result of purity in art. “Musicians such as Subbulakshmi and D.K. Pattamal are proof of the fact that our music can stand on its own. We don’t need to forcibly enter into collaborations to heighten the impact. Do it, if you wish to, as a creative exercise. Many youngsters feel fusing genres is an easy way to reach out to listeners. There are no time-saving methods in music,” he points out.

Does he feel the same about gharana? “Did Bismillah Khan or G.N. Balasubramanian belong to any gharana,” he asks. He pauses and then asks again, “Do you know which gharana Kabirdas and Surdas hailed from?’’ “These stalwarts and saint-poets continue to stir our souls only with their amazing body of work. Labels don’t matter, only good music does.”

Though Chaurasia does not not boast of a musical lineage or a hoary gharana, he is among the most celebrated Indian musicians, who has established two gurukuls called Brindavan in Bhubaneswar and Mumbai. When he is not travelling, he likes to spend time with his sishyas. “I know what it means to have an affectionate guru. I waited patiently for three years for the venerable sitar artist Annapurna Devi (former wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar) to accept me as her sishya. Once that happened I knew nothing could come between my bansuri and me. She helped me devise my own technique of playing the flute.”

This son of a wrestler, spent his early years in the akhada to please his father, learnt music discreetly to nurture his passion. “Looking back, I owe it to those fighting skills that prepared me for the long, tough journey. Every concert is like entering the ring. You win some, you lose some,” he says with a hearty laugh.

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Printable version | Feb 20, 2020 10:01:02 AM |

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