Medico with a verve for veena



At first sight he looks just like any other medico, with his white coat and stethoscope hanging around his neck and with patients before him. However, when his fingers are not probing his patient's problem zones, they are drumming on the table or plucking something in the air subconsciously. His fingers seem to speak a totally different language to you.Meet B.K. Durga Prasad - a full-fledged MD in radiology working with the Seven Hills Hospital. He is one of the key players in the department. But what makes this cherubic, ever-smiling doctor more interesting is that he is also a graded veena player of All India Radio and has an illustrious background in the art form. Dr. Durga Prasad's family moved from Kakinada to Vizag in 1979 when he was in his school final years. With absolutely no musical background - none from his family for about five generations on either side could even sing! - his decision to learn veena playing in 1981 from Pappu Padmavati was met with a little resistance. However, a close family friend who was an aide to veena maestro Chittibabu in Chennai gave this young man his first taste of the thrilling nuances of Carnatic music and the veena. After this mesmerising meeting, young Durga Prasad was hell-bent on mastering the instrument. He was in his plus two in 1985 when he was selected as the youngest player to accompany Chittibabu along with 50 others for the legendary album 'Wedding Bells'. It was a 'gurukula' experience as he stayed in the maestro's home for a month. For him, Chittibabu was the embodient of the feminine grace to Carnatic music and he was the undisputed king of the strings. In 1987, Durga Prasad gave his first stage show at Bhimavaram. After leaving school in top honors he joined the Andhra Medical College in 1989-90 and while studying MBBS, he also cleared the graduate honour diploma course in music from Andhra University. In 1991 he won the first prize at the AIR contests along with the ace mridangist, Sadguru Charan. Even without an audition Durga Prasad was made a ''B'' Grade artiste. For him this grading was almost like getting a master's degree in medicine. In 1993 he was conferred the title of the Mumbai-based Sur Singar Sansad. The highlight of his music career is his jugalbandi in Mumbai with famous violinists and sitarists. Today, he has more than 500 concerts to his credit and extols the Vizianagaram style as preached by Chittibabu.The veena has three styles in South India. While the Madras style is more gayaki where the strings are pulled more and the Mysore style as propagated by the doyen Doraiswamy Iyengar is a visual spectacle, the doctor ascribes to the dignified Vizianagaram style which is the oldest with over 300 years of history to back its origin. In this style, the players actually make the veena prononce the words. Being a scientist first and artiste next, Durga Prasad has made some changes on his veena near the resolution box and added a triangular plectrum to the main bridge to get a greater resonance on higher octaves. This scientific technique was greatly appreciated by Chittibabu. Surely, when the doctor plays, the notes sound differently unique!'Rasamaiye', a cultural organisation formed by doctors like Durga Prasad and Perala Balamurali Krishna to propagate fine arts in the medical fraternity, is doing yeoman service in spreading the message of traditional music in the city and also helps other medical professionals to keep in touch with their latent talents and creativity.Durga Prasad practises daily for at least two hours and gets a spiritual and emotional high by playing on the veena. He suffers from a 'cultural hangover' after every concert and feels elated if he plays at night. For him, the best way to unwind after a hectic day at the hospital is to get fresh and play on the veena to his heart's content.Todi is his favourite raga which is the heart and soul of South Indian music. ''For an artist to play well, physical fitness is a must,'' says the doctor with a glint in his eyes. His wife Indira is a gynaecologist who is also a versatile veena player and their two-year-old daughter Durga Ananda Lahari is evincing interest in understanding her father's music. He has published a scientific treatise entitled, 'Effect of music on ante-natal cases', thus making him the connecting link between sciences and fine arts.Durga Prasad is getting prepared for his next stage show at Kali Temple on Beach Road and at Kalabharati and truly enjoys the lecture-demonstration style. ''The veena is like good rum, intoxicating the player more as it grows older,'' he says with a mischevious smile. Mozart is his favourite among Western classical musicians, while the more contemporary Yanni and Vanessa Mae make good symphony sense to him. Zakir Hussain, Amjad Ali and Bismillah Khan are his icons among Indian artistes, and atrributes their success to their positive attitude, hard work and grace. Although he appreciates the kaleidoscope of Western music, Durga Prasad is an ardent supporter of Indian music. While defending Carnatic and Hindustani music, which are slowly being threatened and replaced by baseless Western remix and pop, Durga Prasad is very effusive. ''Western music is harmony-oriented while our music is melody-oriented. You need at least three octaves in Western music concerts. But Indian instrumetalists have to get the nuances by heart and improvise the same on the stage with no trial. This 'swarakalpana' makes our music more dynamic. The north-eastern darbar music is slowly being replaced by mellifluous temple music. It is our depth and emotional compositions which are wrapped in the spiritual fabric that make Carnatic music so different with worldwide appeal,'' quips the radiologist passionately.So, the next time you think that medicos lead a stressful and boring life, stop and think of Dr. Durga Prasad who is pulling the right strings at the right time and right now!


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