The following article contains excerpts of an interview (2016) of Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia by Late Siddharth Iyer ↓
‘I was waiting for you’.
These were the words from Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, India’s famous flutist.
I had told him over the phone that I’ll reach his hotel in some 30 minutes. However, I reached slightly late than promised. Despite arriving from an early morning flight, Panditji chose to meet me. He could’ve simply refused, citing a busy schedule. But, he honored his commitment.
Artists of Panditji’s repute are expected to be arrogant or so full of importance! But this man impressed me very much with his humility.
Bestowed with India’s second highest civilian honour— the Padma Vibhushan— Panditji’s consummate artistry has made him one of the finest masters of Bansuri, both at home and abroad. In a candid chat with me, Panditji discusses a wide range of issues from Hindustani to Carnatic music, the frequently drawn comparisons between Indian and western music, and more.
Siddharth Iyer (SI) : These days I find many people running after western music. Very few might seem interested in Indian classical music. Is it because one doesn’t require brains to understand western songs, while it’s totally different with Hindustani?
Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia (HPC):
You must have ‘ears’ for classical music. If you like Taj Mahal, you want to see it. Some may want to see a film shooting in Bombay. It depends. Thank God the younger generation loves listening to ‘music’— be it western or classical. The only difference is they ‘enjoy’ listening western. It’s good. Why ignore it. If we can learn French or German, why not listen to western music? You should have bhakti towards music, that’s all! The biggest problem with us is we compare: “Why listen to this or that music?” No! We must listen to all kinds of music— south Indian, north Indian— sab accha hai. Music is music! What matters is enjoyment.
SI: So you’re saying music is meant for ‘enjoyment’?
HPC: No! Not enjoyment! It ‘depends’ upon the person. Sometimes you enjoy a dance outside a temple. While some go to temple to dance. You can’t blame them and they can’t blame you.
SI: Birju Maharaj once told me Kathak helps him reach God. In your case, has Bansuri helped you reach God?
HPC: I don’t know I’ll be able to reach. But I go for prayer. Whenever I play concert, I pray. So, I and the listeners are in prayer.
SI: Pandit Jasraj seems to keep a lot of precautions in terms of ambience, food and sitting arrangements. Do you take any such precautions?
HPC: No, I don’t. Again, it depends.
SI: My dad follows Carnatic music a lot. But it’s sad to see Carnatic not promoted properly in India. And it’s always Hindustani that takes the spotlight.
HPC: Why is it so? People must find out. Even I don’t know. We must first ask ourselves why we distinguish between Carnatic and Hindustani. We are all Indians! Why should we think this music is different than that one?
SI: Sir, you’ll find most Carnatic musicians learning Hindustani. But no one from Hindustani takes the interest to learn Carnatic. Why is there a mindset that Hindstani is superior?
HPC: That’s what I’m saying. It needs to be found out. Why did MS Gopalakrishnan, Balamuralikrishna try Hindustani? Because, they needed crowd, programs, money. No one offered that much money in South (India).
SI: After the introduction of fusion in Carnatic music, it seems to have lost its ‘purity’. What do you say?
I think the same. Either you eat dal-rice or completely turn non-veg. If you’re following a religion, and going to present it to a certain kind of music lover then you must follow the rules. If you’re playing Carnatic, then play Carnatic. If you’re playing Hindustani, then play Hindustani. If playing Jazz, then play Jazz. Don’t mix-up anything. Moreover, commercialization has spoilt everything.
SI: What do you have to say about the modernization of Hindustani music?
Most youngsters play their own compositions, and ragas. Now, the old maestros might start hating this. They might say, “What is it? Have you forgotten the basics?” But the young people may have their own sense of music, but they are not allowed.
HPC: Let’s say 20 or 30 years down the line, do you think the horizon of Hindustani music will widen? Will new surs or ragas get added in?
I can’t predict. But the brightness of the ‘sur’ will remain the same. It’s like we can’t modify the brightness of moon. We should never say the level of music has gone down. Rather the mind levels of humans have gone down!
SI: I am very pleased to see the guru-shishya tradition still exist in Hindustani music. Most maestros of your generation prefer staying at their disciple’s home when they are touring. What has kept this tradition still alive?
Bhakti! (Keeps hand close to chest)
HPC: Why not the same could exist with western musicians? Why compare us with western music? Everything from language, dress, and food is different. I would say whatever is happening in India is ‘wrong’! Why we differentiate between a south Indian and north Indian? We all are one! Hindustani musicians must also play Carnatic. I have played mridangam. There was an mridangam player who didn’t have any programs. I said I’ll with play with him so that he gets some money. Why such acts are not to be seen often?
SI: Then, why doesn’t a person of your repute raise voice? Only then can a change begin.
HPC: As artists, you are not just meant to be entertainers, but reformers too. Let’s not assume defeat.
Do you think we are not trying? I’ve also met the Prime Minister. Narendra Modi came to hear my concert for 2-hours. He should think! I can’t keep on saying to him.
SI: What’s your current age? 80?
HPC: 18! Why to get depressed and think I am old or I can’t climb steps. And I enjoy travelling as it enables me to meet so many different people.
SI: When I met Zakir Hussain, I couldn’t believe the world famous table wizard is so down to earth. Whereas, some artists smack of arrogance. In your case, I am glad you are a humble person. What keeps you so grounded?
HPC: I have not grown to that level. I never think I am commanding. I always keep learning.
SI: So you still pick up new things?
HPC: Of course! I’ve picked up so much from South! I’ve met so many people from South. I am talking about TM Krishna, MS Gopalakrishnan, or Lalagudi Jayaraman. We’ve played together. But the problem is they are in their own world.
Many people (journalists) write that we Hindustani musicians are the best. I also don’t agree with that.
SI: Bansuri (flute) is your regular companion. If you don’t see it for a day, do you feel something amiss?
HPC: Yes! I feel, “gadbad hai kuch.” Maybe God wants me to rest (that day).
[Courtesy of allowing us to reproduce this interview by Mr V N Balakrishna, father of late Siddharth Iyer]