PT. HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA

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          Padmabhushan Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia was born in Allahabad in 1938 and started learning classical vocal techniques from Pt. Rajaram at the age of 15. But a year later, he switched to playing the flute under the tutelage of Pt. Bholanath of Varanasi. Much later, in 1952, while working for AIR, he received guidance from the Surbahar player Smt. Annapurna Devi (daughter of Late Ustad Allaudin Khan).
The great Indian master of the North Indian Bamboo Flute has won a number of prestigious awards including the Maharashtra Gaurav Puraskar (1990), Konark Sanman (1992),Yash Bharati Sanman (1994), Padmabhushan (1992) and the Sangeet Natak Academy (1984).

      ‘I BECAME A MUSICIAN ON THE SLY’

     How does a musically inclined child cope with his secret passion in a family of tone-deaf wrestlers? Ask Pt. Hariprasad Churasia.
For, Pt. Chaurasia’s is the classic story of the victory of music over muscle. The operative word, he confesses, being ‘secret’, in the rather prlonged battle. His father, Srilal, was a well-known wrestler of his time in Allahabad and had no patience for namby-paambies who didn’t do their daily kusrat with the right amount of gusto (and cowards who thought of taking up any profession other than wrestling).
     "You can imagine my position. I was a child, with no one to side with me since I had lost my mother at the age of five," says Pt. Chaurasia. "And I was faced with a hot-tempered pehalwan for a father, who would thrash me if he ever found out about my secret. So I had to train in wrestling for some years –just for the sake of peace."
     Yet he maintained a secret life of his own outside home. A determined 10-years old, he first approached Pt. Rajaram to train him in singing. "But I soon realised that my voice didn’t have enough range for classical singing," he says. "That’s when I took up the flute, for that’s an instrument you can sing through. I approached Pt. Bholenath for training. He taught me everything from making a flute to holding it. Since I couldn’t pay him anything, I used to help him out in other ways –like shopping or cooking for him."
     This double life continued until Chaurasia got the job of a flute player in All India Radio, in his teens. "Since my posting was in Cuttack in Orissa and I had to leave Allahabad, I had to tell my father about the job,""he says. "And the first question he asked me was, how could I be hired as a flute player when I didn’t know how to play the flute! So I hemmed and hawed and told him that I played ‘a litte.’ I also pressed home my point by saying that while I got Rs.85 a month for my stenographer’s job in Allahabad, I would be getting Rs.160 at AIR."
     Leave taking father broke down and cried . "I felt bad since he was the only parent I knew. But I also knew that if I didn’t leave home, I would never be able to take up music seriously as a career," he adds. " I had to leave home to become a musician."
From Orissa, AIR brought him to Mumbai in 1962. Where a whole world of opportunities opened up for him, once the film industry discovered this young man called Hariprasad Chaurasia who could create magic with his flute on the radio. Offers came pouring in from all music composers –O.P. Nayyar, S. D. Burman, Salil Choudhury, Roshan, Madan Mohan … And he got busy playing the flute to film songs.
     "This went on for a while until one day I stopped to think and ask myself what I was doing ," he says. " I had a busy calender, a house and a car, but I hadn’t got anywhere in terms of expertise on the flute. I realised I needed more training. So I eased off from playing in films and approached Annapurna Devi to train me."
It wasn’t easy to convince her though. ("She scornfully called me a ‘film wallah’ and told me to get out.") It took the to-be-disciple three years of persistence to convince the guru. Finally she gave him a hearing and agreed to take him on.
     "I used to work at AIR from 8 a.m to 10 p.m and then go to her for lessons from 10.30 p.m to 2 a.m," he recalls. "I was rarely seen without a flute in my hand, day and night. There were people who told me not to play so much since it affects my health, but I paid no attention to them."
Now that he himself has come full circle through applause and honours, Pt. Chaurasia is in the process of setting up a gurukul (suitably called Brindavan ) in Mumbai. "I remember how much trouble I had in making music a vocation, so I want to have a place where dedicated children can come and just surrender themselves to music," he explains. "Ideally, of course, you need to have one such gurukul in every state in order to draw out supressed talent from all over India. The Maharashtra government has made a start by giving us land in Mumbai. Perhaps in time, other state governments will see the need for continuing the tradition of Indian music too."


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