A simple piece of bamboo produces some of the most melodious sounds in the world. When in the hands of a person destined to play it, the results are mesmerising. The bansuri is known as the musical instruments of the gods with Lord Krishna being the most famous exponent. Among humans it is Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. The giant of Indian classical music honoured me by agreeing for an audience.
To be honest, I was a bit nervous as I made my way to meet Panditji at the Vrindaban Gurukul. The moment Panditji laid his hand on my head, the nervousness vanished. But what can one ask the stalwart of Indian classical music? The octogenarian opened up about his love for the bansuri, his journey, the changes in music and the importance of the Guru Shisya Parampara.
Panditji comes from a family of wrestlers. To imagine a wrestler playing the delicate bansuri is a far-fetched thought.
So how did he take up the bansuri?
It was god’s wish. He didn’t make Mahatma Gandhi’s son a Mahatma, just gave him the surname. It was my destiny to roam around with a piece of bamboo. Every parent wants their children to follow their footsteps. A businessman would want his children to be businessmen, a musician would want them to be musicians and so on. But the almighty has different plans for everyone. God wanted me to be a musician, so here I am. Though I am still not one, I am learning to be a musician.
Given your family background, there would not have been much exposure to music. How did you learn music then?
I approached people to teach me. I would listen to them play and try to imitate. My friends loved music and I grew found of their musical activities. We were aloof from the world and were always in our musical space. Not only were we doing Maa Saraswati’s upasana, we were also learning music. I am still learning. Till I am alive I will keep learning from anyone and everyone. If I am born as a human in my next birth I will contribute to learning music. I am sowing the seeds for my next birth.
Panditji belongs to the Senia gharana and after years of practice, he has developed a unique personal style. His style has helped popularise classical music to a wider audience but it was also criticised initially for being too romantic.
What changes has the maestro witnessed over the years?
The change has been huge. In every sphere. Change is inevitable. One doesn’t have to fear the darkness or the light but find a balance. Now the duration of music is shorter and the youth likes more of fusion. As I said it’s the change. There is darkness right now. One has to cope with it. There is good with the bad. Time will change everything. As far as fusion is concerned, woh zabardasti wala kaam hai.
Playing in different languages and styles
I was posted in Orissa. It was a different world than what I was used to but I adapted to it. Just like the difference in language there is difference in music too. But after all its music, just a little different. The beauty of Indian classical music is that it is constant across the country. The difference is in the local folk music.
Panditji has performed and composed music for the All India Radio (AIR) in Orissa. When he was transferred to Mumbai, he started performing at concerts and for movies too. It was at one of the studious, santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and he got together to compose music for films under the name Shiv-Hari.
It was gods wish. There is a big audience for Indian classical music but the film music audience is humongous. We wanted to reach them through our music. I used to do a lot of studio work. Some people asked me why I didn’t do film music. I said if you give me work I will do it. I met Shivji at a studio and we started composing together. But we were seldom together in the studio as one of us would always be on a tour. This could have resulted in losses for everyone. So we decided to end it. We were fortunate that people appreciated our film work too.
At this moment, I intervened and said
“Panditji you gave good music so people liked it.”
“It is not like that, sometimes even good music is not appreciated,” he answered with a smile
Has this ever happened with you in a concert?
Not exactly. Suppose a lovely lunch has been made and everyone liked it. But there will always be one person who will say it could have been better. Aise log hote hai, aa hi jaate hai. You should take it in your stride.
One of Panditji’s dream was to learn under Annapurna Devi. Legend has it that she only agreed to teach him if he was willing to unlearn all that he had learnt. Not only was he ready to unlearn but to prove his commitment he agreed to switch from right-handed to left-handed playing. Panditji plays left-handed to this day.
It was a fantastic journey. I had wanted to learn under her from a long time. She was settled in Mumbai so when I moved here I approached her to learn. I was ready to do anything she would ask. Luckily she didn’t ask me to jump from the sixth floor. She was a Surbahar player. So I had to learn according to her style. It was like learning to play the bansuri all over again. The adjustment from right to left hand was difficult but I had to do it.
If I can give back even a little of what I have learnt from my gurumaa and other gurus, I would be fortunate. For that I started this gurukul. I live here with all the disciples, my family is not allowed here. To begin learning music the schools are good. But if one wants to get deeper into it, the Guru Shishya Parampara is the only way.