Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Breath of Gold, Hariprasad Chaurasia - Sathya Saran

Hariprasad Chaurasia's name is synonymous with the flute, a humble instrument some say (though I wonder how my instrument can be humble), that he almost single-handedly made popular in one lifespan. Sathya Saran's book brings out the young wrestler-to-be's great love for music, for the flute, his quest for learning, his devotion to his guru Annapurna Devi, his partnership with his friend Shiv Kumar Sharma, his compositions and his desire to nurture great musicians for the future. If the gods chose Hariprasad Chaurasia to elevate the standing of the flute. Hariprasad Chaurasia carried his purpose with single-minded focus, with aplomb, playing for audiences across the world, in royal palaces to the layman.

Hariprasad Chaurasia's journey begins in Allahabad, the second of three children of Chedi pehelwan, a renowned wrestler who ran an akhada, sandwiched between an older sister and a younger brother, Hariprasad was expected to train to be a pehelwan like his father and he trained hard at his father's akahara, waking up at 5 int he morning and going through great rigour, Chedi pehelwan never remarried after his wife's death, fearing mistreatment of his children, and lavished all his attention on them. Young Hariprasad discovered that he had an ear for music his singing in the temple earned him praise from the pandit. But it was the arrival of a music teacher, Rajaram and his wife, as neighbours that really gave his musical journey direction. Rajaram taught him the basics of classical music, evaluated Hariprasad's vocal range and suggested he choose an instrument to play if he wanted to pursue music. Hariprasad chose the flute, a cheap and easily available instrument, and off he was playing it by the riverside and in open fields for hours. Just as Rajaram and the temple priest did, all through his life Hariprasad would find guidance from people who helped him along and he gratefully received their help.

A big believer in learning through listening and imitating, Hariprasad's early gurus were musicians who played on the All India Radio. He listened to their performances intently and tried to imitate them until one day, he caught the name of the flautist on the radio, and made his way to Bholanath Prasanna, an artist at AIR Allahabad. Bholanath Prasanna took the keen student in and taught him the finer nuances of playing the flute at his house. He even secured a few performances on AIR for Hariprasad which earned him some money as well. All this was without the knowledge of his father of course and Hariprasad always explained that there was extra work at school.

Smitten by stardom, Hariprasad and his friend Jagannath, a singer, headed off ticketless to Bombay by train, mere schoolkids and returned after two days of troubles. As the saying goes, when the student is ready, the teacher appears, and one day when Hariprasad was playing with his friend near a hotel in Allahabad, the renowned classical musician Allauddin Khan of Maisar, stepped out and asked them to sing with him. Hariprasad said he could play the flute, and after listening to him, the great man offered to take him as a pupil. Hariprasad could not leave his house then as he was still ins school and demurred upon which Alauddin Khan, the father-in-law and guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar, told young Hariprasad to seek the services of his daughter Annapurna Devi, if he ever wants to learn classical music. Annapurna Devi was Pandit Ravi Shankar's first wife.

Chedi pehelwan was thrilled when 16-year-old Hari secured a job at the Allahabad Spinning Mills as an LDC, after school, where he was looked after well by a lover of music by the owner of the mill. A while later came a government job which to Chedi pehelwan was the highest calling in anyone seeking a career. Hariprasad continued his performances, meeting people who promoed his talent and even played as an accompanist at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan with the President Dr Rajendra Prasad in the audience. During this period, prodded by his guru Bholanath Prasanna, Hariprasad auditioned for AIR and was chosen as a B grade artiste at Rs. 180 rupees as salary. His posting, Cuttack.

It was only when the 18-year old was packing to go to Cuttack that Chedi Pehelwan saw the many flutes in his bag and realised that his son had been playing the flute and very well too. He was distraught that he was not able to help his son better. Hariprasad promised his father that he would try this stint out in a new place for a month and if things did not work out he would return.

In 1857, when Hariprasad joined the Cuttack AIR station, he never realised that he had set off on a journey that would take him across the world and bring him name, fame and wealth. Krishnamurthy, Director of AIR Cuttack, a musician himself, took the young flautist under his wing, granting him permission to stay on the office premises and letting him play or attend all classical concerts. The mentorship of Pandit Bhubandehwar Mishra at Cuttack took Hariprasad's career to the next level as he started playing for Mishra's compositions in Oriya plays and films. He also got an opportunity to play in Krishnamurthy's orchestra. Soon, Krishnamurthy asked him to audition as a composer for the AIR and young Hariprasad cracked that too. He became extremely busy playing for the association that formed between Krishnamurthy, Pandit Mishra and Odissi dance exponent Kelucharan Mahapatra who would use their compositions in the Odissi performances by his students. Much in demand by the Odissi artistes, Hariprasad Chaurasia, is smitten by a collegian, student of Ustad Firoz Khan, Angurbala aka Anuradha, and an Odissi dancer herself, and married her secretly, on August 15, 1958.

Hariprasad's rise and success did not go down well with many of his peers and colleagues after a few complaints to the new boss (his mentor Krishnamurthy had been transferred too), he was transferred to Bombay.  This upset his well-set life in Cuttack but faced with no option but to resign or take the transfer, Hariprasad left for Bombay, thinking that he would try it out for a month. He was unhappy at leaving his wife and the wonderful atmosphere at Cuttack amidst many great gurus. In 1962 he joined the AIR Bombay and initially stayed with his older sister Banno at Bhulabhai Road. His colleague at AIR Bombay, Ahmad, got him jobs to play at Gujarati plays apart from the music he had to play on AIR. Until one day he received a call from a film studio. Madan Mohan, the renowned composer wanted him to accompany for song to be sung by Talat Mahmood for the film Jahan Ara. The song was 'Phir Wohi Sham'. And so the journey continued into a new territory. Hariprasad played on and on, learning and practising, never refusing an opportunity, and gaining expertise with each performance. Apart from the number of hours he played, the quality of people he associated with also helped him hone his craft tremendously.

Soon Hariprasad was regularly playing for compositions by some of the best maestros in the business such as OP Nayyar, SD Burman, C Ramachandra, Kalyanji Anadji, Lakshmikant Pyarelal, Shanker Jaikishen and others and soon he composing music for films as well. His days would spill over into nights and there were times when he would carry his toothpaste with him so he could freshen up in the morning after the night's work. Since he was making enough money, he decided to shift Anuradha who had completed her exams, and they moved into Evergreen Hotel at Khar, a well-known pad for artistes. Hariprasad was busy performing and travelling across the country - Calcutta, Bombay, Madras. His work paid off and soon he and Anuradha moved into a home. He bought himself his first car, a Morris Eight which he Minister on driving himself. He brought his first wife Kamala, who was in Allahabad with her two sons to Bombay, bought a house for her where she stayed with the sons and his father. Both wives lived as sisters and Kamala helped in bringing up Rajeev, Anuradha's son.

Hariprasad's friendship with Shiv Kumar Sharma whom he met in a college festival in 1950, turned into a life long partnership. Shiv-Hari as they would be known as, teamed up together and began composing and playing for films. Milan, Geet were mong the first films they composed for while Hero by Subhash Ghai, with its trademark flute tune, gave them a bigger recognition. The duo also composed 'Call of the Valley' which was released by HMV and became a bestseller. It is till date the highest selling Indian classical composition. He was soon playing with Pandit Ravi Shankar along with George Harrison, which gave him further exposure to the greatest musical talent in the world at that time. By 1974, Hariprasad had toured many of the European countries as a performer and had performed at the Royal Albert Hall, London, to a packed house as well.

Realising that his range needed to increase, Hariprasad with his trademark humility, sought out a guru to teach him. He sought Annapurna Devi, known to be a recluse, who taught only a few students. Since she separated from Pandit Ravi Shakar she lived alone in Bombay and Hariprasad went to meet her. She refused saying she played the surbahar and not the bansuri. For three years Hariprasad visited her, 3-4 times a month, greeting her and requesting her, until she finally took him on as a student. Hariprasad offered to give up films to learn from her, when she told him that he should never turn away goddess Lakshmi. her option, come for lessons after engagements at the studios, after 1 in the morning!

One of the first things Annapurna Devi does is to slow him down. She would repeat that there was no need for speed in music, it had to be like a prayer. When Hariprasad told her that audiences liked speed, the temperamental guru broke a tanpura on his head - 'do you play to learn music or for others!' Over time the guru and her shishya built a beautiful relationship, one of complete devotion and transfer of knowledge in its purest sense. For many years Hariprasad learned from his guru ma, who taught him dhrupad, dhamar, tappa, thumri, kajri. A lesson that he also learned from Annapurna Devi was that she taught music so that men could get joy and peace of mind.

Hariprasad joined Ravi Shankar's troupe of great musicians Alla Rakha on tabla, L Subramanyam on the violin, Shiv Kumar Sharma on santoor as they played at Harrison's castle in the United Kingdom. Soon after that, they embarked on a 45 city tour of USA and Canada promoting the 'Dark Horse Years'. Meanwhile, Shiv Hari kept composing for films - Silsila, Faasle, Vijay, Chandni, Lamhe, Darr. A program to play at Tirumala Tirupathi with Lata Mangeshkar was an opportunity to ger his flute blessed by Lord Balaji. Hariprasad now realised it was time to give back -he began his practice of playing the flute for 24 hours, from the midnight of Janmashtami, as a tribute to Lord Krishna the original flautist.

Hariprasad was toying with the idea of starting a gurukul. In 1988, while on a trip to Japan as part of the entourage with Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, he requested the prime Minister land for a gurukul. Rajiv Gandhi was as good as his word and an 800 square yard plot in Juhu was allotted to him. But he could not build his gurukul for lack of funding until he met Ratan Tata at the ceremony for Padma Vibhushan (where both were recipients) and the next thing he knew, the Tatas handed him the key to his gurukul. He named his gurukul 'Vrindaban Gurukul'. Hariprasad wanted to raise a generation of musicians like his guru ma had. He taught by throwing challenges to his students. he believed they should also learn by listening and practising. In 2010, he stared a second gurukul at Bhubaneshwar. More than music, his students feel, he teaches humility and devotion to art.

Sometime after that, Hariprasad took up a teaching job at the Rotterdam Conservatory where he teaches for four months a year. Hariprasad has played with the biggest names - Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Jasraj, Balamurali Krishna, TN Krishnan, John McLaughlin, Ian Anderson, Egberto Gismnti, Ian Garbareck, Jang Hyun Won to name a s few. He has played for Queen Beatrix, Queen of Holland on her birthday. Not one to bother about crowd reactions - he would treat every performance as a chance to play - be it for 8 people in one church recital or in front of an unruly crowd at Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad. The advent of Parkinson's in 2009 has slowed him down just a bit.

'Breath of Gold' is a fascinating journey of a man who submitted to his destiny, who went about his work with utmost dedication and humility, who never lost track and always remained a student. it is a journey well captured and well told. Sathya Saran is a well-known journalist, editor of Femina for several years, author of books on Guru Dutt, SD Burman, Jagjit Singh, Hariprasad Chaurasia, a book on the making of Angoor, on ho toe a beauty queen and so on. Sathya is consulting editor with Penguin India, writes for several publications and also curates a festival called the Unfestival.

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