PT. HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA
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).
I BECAME A MUSICIAN ON THE SLY
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).
How does a musically
inclined child cope with his secret passion in a family of tone-deaf wrestlers? Ask Pt.
For, Pt. Chaurasias 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 didnt 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 didnt have enough range for classical
singing," he says. "Thats when I took up the flute, for thats 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 stenographers 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 didnt 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 hadnt 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 wasnt 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
"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."