Sounds of Magic

Ambika Shaligram
Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia and Pt Shivkumar Sharma, who will be performing in the city on Sunday, talk about their relationship and what makes their work so special

On Sunday evening, music loving citizens of Pune will be treated to yet another magical performance of Pt Shivkumar Sharma and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. The two gurus, who have been close friends for more than 50 years credit the magical and mesmerising elements in their performance to their understanding of each other. The duo would be performing at the Guru Vandana Music Festival, which commemorates the 125th birth anniversary year of Paramhansa Yogananda. The festival, organised by Ananda Sangha Pune, is a fundraiser and the proceeds will support the widows of Vrindavan through the Paramhansa Yogananda Public Charitable Trust.

Both the artists express their gratitude in performing for a cause and urge the audience to contribute their time and money for a programme which will give a dignified life to the widows. They also share their thoughts on their camaraderie, what makes them happy and the work they have done so far.

The duo, popularly known as Shiv-Hari, have worked together in classical music genre, produced Call of the Valley music album, done jugalbandi in Sweden and gone on world tours and also composed film music, mostly for Yash Chopra. Their combined musical genius is not unknown to Pune and this time too, they hope to do something special, with god’s blessings, as Hariji points out. 

Shedding light on what happens in a jugalbandi or a duet performance, Shivji says, “When we play together, or have a jugalbandi, the audience expects that this is going to be a kushti (wrestling). It’s not so. There’s no one upmanship in jugalbandi. A jugalbandi is one where the two artists know each other, each other’s temperament, appreciate each other, and most importantly understand each other’s music. I would say that we are blessed by god that we know and understand each other completely. When we play on stage, this understanding comes through to the audience. We also find happiness in this.” 

And besides the two personalities complementing each other, the two instruments also have to create something unique and soulful. “In our case, santoor (string instrument) and bansuri (blown instrument), complement each other. And, when they are played in tandem, the combination is beautiful and soulful,” he says.

The people sitting in the audience are often left awe-struck with what happens on stage — the vocalists and instrumentalists or the two instrumentalists produce something beautiful. There is a curiosity to understand how this is achieved. Is there a process? The answer lies in something sublime — happiness. 

Shivji says, “We are looking for happiness in our performances. The unique aspect of classical music is that nothing is rigid or rehearsed. In other forms of music, like in orchestra or film music, you might rehearse. But in Indian classical music, there is a long tradition of learning, discipline and dedication and after a point, we reach this stage that we discuss and play something impromptu. That is what gives us anand.”

Is this what they and other artists mean by spirituality, being transported to another world through their music, we ask.  “You got it right,” he agrees. 

Many youngsters are acquainted with their work through the music they have composed for films like Silsila, Chandni and Lamhe. The music is haunting and soulful. The duo worked on films through 1980s-90s, and mostly in Yash Chopra films. It was reported that they reduced their work in films after yesteryear actor Sanjeev Kumar told them to concentrate on what they were gifted with — the music they were born to play. On being asked this, Hariji says, “He had told us, ‘Film ke chakkar mein aap mat padiye. Inhe apna na banaiye. He didn’t want us to lose our identity and our music. Also, we were not getting good subjects, good stories. Even today, if we are asked to compose music for films like Baiju Bawra, Mughal-e-Azam and Anarkali, we would take up those projects.”

Back then when the classical masters worked in the film industry, a debate raged on whether it was right. Hariji’s answer sparkles with wit, wisdom and humility. He says, “See, my thinking is simple. If I am visiting a temple, I will worship the god and think of him. If I visit a masjid, I will pray to allah and if I am at a food stall, I will concentrate on food. Can’t we align our thought process to do what we are expected to do at that particular point of time? It doesn’t make sense to play filmi music in a temple, I will play a bhajan there. This was our thought process when Shivji and I composed for films.”

“The bottomline,” says the bansuri guru, “is that we have to appreciate music — whether it’s classical, semi-classical, folk or film. We are not musicians if we are unable to appreciate the swar that are common to all the forms. Once A T Kanan sahab was singing, Baiyyan na dharon and he was asked by someone, ‘Why are you singing a filmi song?’ He replied, ‘Usme galti kya hui? Jiska sar kharab ho, wohi yeh gaana nahi samjhega’. This song touches your heart. Sometimes you might sing for an hour and yet you cannot move your audience, but Lata Mangeshkar can do that magic with just one line. Why can’t we appreciate music for what it is?”

The octogenarian musicians agree whole-heartedly that even if we live in a fast-paced life and there are far more distractions now than in the past, the Gurukul tradition is what we have to preserve. “We led simpler lives, there was no distraction, even television came very late in our lives. We have to make slight changes to how we study music, but the base remains the same. A shishya will have to go to a guru to learn, he will have to do riyaaz. But yes, today’s students make use of gadgets while learning. When I was learning from my father, I was not allowed to write down the notations. I had to memorise them. Today most of the students will record them on their mobiles. This is dependency, but I think it also helps. You need to have shraddha, and surrender to your guru and do self-assessment,” points out Shivji.

When asked to elaborate on self-assessment, the santoor maestro adds, “There are three or four stops that you have to navigate yourself through before you become a musician of repute — you have to learn from your guru, you have to understand what he is imparting to you, you have to rehearse what you have learnt, and then listen to other gurus/artists, understand and compare their style with your guru, work on those ideas. If a student is gifted then he can come up with a new style. This is not possible for all. One perfect example is Ustad Zakir Hussain. We have played together many times now. Jab Zakir ka tabla aur mera santoor bajta hai, toh mehfil par alag hi rang chadhta hai. Zakir is a mind reader. He knows exactly what mood I am in, and what will enhance it.”

Hariji, who has learnt from Pt Bholanath and later from Annapurna Devi, reveres them and considers them as family. “I revere Pt Bholanathji as my brother. Before he got married, he would cook and feed me. I feel very happy thinking about him and the time we spent. I still go and meet my guru Annapurna Deviji. She is ailing. If I get her blessings, it’s a new beginning for me,” he says.

When we say that we don’t hear of such instances in the West, he points out, “There is no concept of  guru there. They know and understand the term ‘maestro’. They do good work, play some good music, but that’s it. We abide by guru. If he says ‘It’s night’, the shishya will agree that it’s night, even if it’s day. That’s bhakti for us. The West doesn’t have the concept of bhakti and that’s why their music is a representation of their lives there.”

Hariji, who has two gurukuls, says that he has tried to pass on similar values to his students. They are prohibited from smoking or consuming tobacco and non-vegetarian food. “The atmosphere is all pious and naturally there are no distractions. There is complete surrender to music,” says the musician, who has also learnt wrestling. 

There is a popular saying ‘Jo gavaiyyan, woh khavaiyyan’ and both the musicians testify to it. “We enjoy food. Everytime we play in a city, we go looking out for food. I love visiting Vaishali restaurant in Pune. But it’s very crowded. I also like a good plate of Pav Bhaji!,” quips Hariji, while Shivji adds, “I love Thalipeeth in Marathi khana. When I am in Pune, I request the chef to make it.”

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia will lead Guru Vandana Music Festival organised by Ananda Sangha Pune. The music concert will be held on September 30, 6.30 pm at Ganesh Kala Krida Manch auditorium

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