Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia is almost entirely responsible for the evolution of Hindustani classical flute-playing since the era of Pannalal Ghosh (early to mid- 1900s). He is one of the few classical musicians to have made the jump to being a popular performer. As a music director in Bollywood, he has the soundtracks of Chandni, Silsila, Lamhe and Darr to his credit. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 2000 and currently heads the world music department at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory.
Your father was a wrestler and apparently he was quite insistent that you join his profession.
Photo: Ashima Narain
I think all fathers want their children to join the same profession as theirs, and mine was no different. In my youth, I had to regularly go to the akhada to please him. But often your plans are very different from the ones your parents make for you. Sachin Tendulkar’s parents, I believe, did not want him to be a professional cricketer.
I have to say, though, that my years of training as a wrestler helped immensely in building my stamina, which in turn helped me in my music.
Is it true that you had to learn in secret to begin with?
Absolutely. I started learning vocal(s) from Pandit Raja Ram and I could not tell my father anything about it. I could not even practise at home. I would either go to a friend’s place or to a temple…when the priest was away.
How did the shift to the flute happen?
After a while, my guru told me that the range of my voice was not proper for singing. He felt that I should pick up an instrument—but an instrument that would allow me to sing through it. He suggested the flute because, ultimately, playing the flute is nothing but singing through the bamboo. He also said that the flute would be an easy instrument to maintain. I think the reason that appealed to me most was the fact that the flute is a creation of Lord Krishna. As far as I know, it is the only musical instrument he created, as it does not have the skin of any animal.
You gave the flute a whole new sound. Is that something you worked at consciously?
Tell me, why do people take such good care of their faces? Because it is the first thing about you that others get to see or notice. When it comes to singing, why is the voice of the singer so important? Why is there only one Lata Mangeshkar? Because she just needs to utter one or two notes to captivate the audience. For an instrumentalist, it is the tone or the sound of the instrument that serves the purpose of the face or the voice. It creates the first impression—and that is absolutely vital. The very first note must strike a chord in the listener’s heart. I have constantly worked at improving the tone of my flute.
Along with santoor player Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, you have had an extremely successful stint in the Bollywood music industry. Did purist admirers of Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia still like Hari of the Shiv-Hari duo?
I think our decision to use the shortened versions of our names helped us immensely. People did not immediately associate Shiv-Hari with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. We wanted to keep our identities as classical performers free from any Bollywood associations. This is mainly because we were apprehensive about people making requests for Bollywood numbers in classical concerts.
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