Music is a way of life, believes Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia who was in town for the inauguration of his disciple Saurbah Vartak’s flute academy. Known for his outstanding contribution in popularising Indian Classical music across the world, Pandit Chaurasia is called the master of the North Indian bamboo flute, acclaimed at home and abroad.
“I am glad I can pass this knowledge onto the younger generation and am happy Saurabh is initiating this academy,” he says, adding, “Keen flute learners from Pune will not have to travel to other cities now.”
Vartak says that Pune lacked a proper music academy dedicated to the flute. “Sometimes kids are not sure which art form to pursue, but when they do know it, there need to be enough facilities to train them,” says the young flautist who was himself a harmonium player until 2007 when he attended the Sawai Gandharva Music Festival and watched panditji play live up close.
“I was so overwhelmed by his performance that I suddenly wanted to play the flute. While my parents have always been encouraging of my musical inclination, they insisted that I stick to one thing. I somehow convinced them and asked for a flute in Std XII. I began taking flute lessons online and studied it in depth,” he says. After having gained considerable knowledge of the instrument, he decided to take a chance and approach panditji to accept him as a disciple. “I wasn’t sure he would oblige but he did and since 2014, I have been under the most able wings,” Vartak smiles, saying that “guruji’s birthday - July 1 - was the first day of my class with him.”
How has he been as a student, we ask panditji. “Abhi toh shuruvaat hui hai inki. [This is only his beginning]. There’s still a long way to go,” he says, patting Vartak’s back.
Unlike many other Indian artists, Pandit Chaurasia does not come from a family of musicians. Rather, music is a path he found for himself and struggled very hard to overcome all the hurdles that came his way to emerge out successful with his sheer grit, sincerity, hard work, devotion and dedication. “I loved playing the flute but back then music was not looked at as a career option. Everyone loved music - to hear and enjoy, but not to let their kids pursue it full-time. Taking up a government job was the right thing to do then. I neither wanted to disappoint my parents nor did I want to give up on my flute. So I would hide it from my father, take it to a far-away place and practise,” says Pandit Chaurasia.
Have things changed completely? “Not really,” expresses Vartak, adding, “While my parents were supportive, we are still not giving the arts the status they deserve. Schools barely have one music class in the week with hardly any priority.”
Music, panditji insists, must be a part of our daily lives. “It brings harmony to life. There will hardly be any agitation or violence if everyone learnt some music and inculcated it in their everyday lives,” he insists.
Speaking of the traditional gurukul system, the internationally acclaimed flautist says that it helped a disciple in numerous ways. “Even when a teacher wasn’t actively teaching, simply being around him day in and day out would help. You could learn so much from your guru’s way of life,” he says, hoping that if some students at Vartak’s academy decide to pursue this keenly, Vartak too could someday begin a gurukul system.
“Guruji has taught me to never ignore a student. If someone wants to learn, you must always be willing to teach, he always tells me,” says Vartak on imparting knowledge.
But how do we keep youngsters interested in Indian Classical music with so many influences from the West and Bollywood music? “It is okay to like Western music too. As long as you like real music, I believe it is fine. Just ensure that if you are learning something, learn it from the basics first, instead of going for superficial and more money-making business,” says panditji, who performs extensively in India and abroad.
“The two experiences are different. Abroad, they don’t appreciate like they do here with expressions and hand gestures but that’s okay. There they sit through the performance quietly and clap at the end of the show. They are just two different cultures,” he explains.
Panditji says that in India too, there will come a time when the youngsters too will revere classical music. “It will be like yoga. The world takes note of our musical tradition, and soon enough even young Indians will do. Because music is like meditation,” he says, and the flute, he insists, is the god’s own instrument. Lord Krishna played it. “It’s such a simple musical instrument. Just a wooden stick with a few holes. But the music that you create with it is so soulful, it’s bound to touch hearts,” he concludes.