Player of the bansuri, classicist who has gone out of his way to promote Indian classical music, awardee of the Padma Bhushan, the Konarak Samman and the Yash Bharati Samman, music composer for many Indian films, head of the World Music Department at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory, creator of a music style that epitomizes the traditional while flirting with the contemporary – all embodied by the renowned virtuoso, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia.
Read on as he gets candid with TSA.
TSA: As a child, you embarked on a different path, when you decided to pursue music. You came from a family with no background in music. What message would you want go give to people who aspire to do something very different from what everyone expects them to?
HC: Yes, I came from a family of wrestlers, but my love for music led me to where I am today. One should just go with what God wants him to do. It is true that what your parents say is important and they are a manifestation of God in your life. But ultimately do what you think you are meant to do. Your motivation and your drive to pursue your interests will take you where you like it best.
TSA: As a child, it is difficult to learn music because you don’t understand what you are doing and you don’t appreciate its beauty. And by the time you begin to enjoy it, you are too late to start learning.
HC: It is important to find a good teacher. A good teacher will make you understand and appreciate music. And it’s not difficult to find that kind of a teacher. When a person has an urge to smoke, even in the dead of the night, he will try his best and find a shop that is still open to get his cigarettes. If you have an addiction for art you will find the right guru. Also, no age is too late to start learning music.
TSA: You initially started learning Classical Vocals. How did you make a transition to the flute?
HC: Yes, I started with vocals but later, I was enraptured by the Bansuri. But that doesn’t mean I stopped singing. An instrumentalist sings through his instrument. You might not have a melodious voice but that doesn’t stop you. When you are not a good looking person, you do not stop dressing up nicely, do you?
TSA: What do you think of technology being involved in bettering the design and structure of instruments in order to enhance their appeal?
HC: You can make music out of any instrument. Look at the Bansuri. It’s just an unattractive piece of bamboo. No strings or leather. Nothing that gives it the look of an instrument. In spite of that, it is capable of creating such a beautiful melody.
TSA: Tell us about your experience with Western music and international musicians.
HC: There is something for us to learn from Western music, and there is always something which they can learn from us as well. Working with a Western artist is a process of give and take. I am a faculty at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory. [He heads the World Music Department there]. It is a University in the Netherlands, bigger than yours, with about 6000 students learning music. People in the West are very enthusiastic to embrace our culture, and they are very curious about the same. They are amazed at the fact that they take the help of music sheets to play for half and hour and we can go on for hours without any aid. I have been a faculty at Rotterdam for 20 years now. I spend 6 months every year in that place. But I get paid for the whole year (Grins).
TSA: What do you think of the numerous reality shows on TV? Do you think they are a good way of finding talent?
HC: They do find talent. But what about grooming the talent? They only groom their external appearance. It ends at a contract or big prize money. Nobody cares what might happen to the child later on. Even parents think it’s good because their child is earning some money. Instead they should give the child a proper education, find him a place in a music academy or take him to a guru under whom he or she can further improve upon their skills.
TSA: Music needs a lot of discipline. What do have to say about the traditional guru-shishya relationship, especially in the present context?
HC: I think that kind of devotion still exists. When you have a good teacher, you respect him or her. My Guru, Shrimati Annapurna Devi, was not even a flute player, she was a vocalist. You don’t need a flute player to learn the flute. She was the daughter of Ustad Allauddin Khan, a world renowned legend and a maestro of several instruments. I haven’t seen a better musician.
TSA: As students, we find very little time to pursue our interests such as learning a new instrument.
HC: IIT Bombay has a centre for learning music. You should have one too. You will get good teachers as long as you pay them well. If you are really interested, you should fight for it. If you are given a room without a bathroom, you will fight for it, won’t you?
TSA: How was your experience in IIT Kharagpur?
HC: I have been here four times already and I liked it. I have come here even before you people were born. I however like IIT Delhi, Madras and Bombay campuses better. It is not about being a new or old place, but I think they are better maintained.