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I have just started learning says flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia

I have just started learning says flute maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia
"I have just started learning." That's Hariprasad Chaurasia, flute maestro, one of India's most well-known classical musicians and the man who could well have been a wrestler instead. With a humble shake of his head as if trying to get rid of the idea of success, the 84-year-old rushes in with words when asked about seven decades of playing the flute. His journey, he says, has just started and all hopes of perfecting the craft can only be fulfilled in the next birth.

"Now I can only hope that something happens in the next birth. But I am happy so many people across the world give me so much love," Chaurasia told PTI in an interview.

Chaurasia, who has comfortably straddled the twin worlds of classical and popular music and has composed melodies for films such as "Silsila" with santoor maestro Shivkumar Sharma, is grateful for the adulation he receives from the audience.

"Today they come to see me, no matter how well or how badly I play the flute. It is their love for me that brings them here," he said, referring to his advanced age and his battle with Parkinson's disease.

"I am very fortunate that I receive so much love, I don't know if anyone else has been loved so much or not. I know of Krishna, but he was only loved by the girls," the Mumbai-based artiste said playfully.

Had he continued on the path set by his wrestler father, it wouldn't have been possible to reach where he is today, Chaurasia said.

"My father used to tell me that I would beg for food if I continue on this line. But look where I am today and how much love I receive from people. Could this have been possible if I had continued in the field of wrestling?" he asked.

Chaurasia was born in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, in 1938. His father had decided his son would follow his footsteps into the wrestling mat. However, Chaurasia, uninterested and perennially tired after the training his father was putting him through, had other things on his mind.

According to the veteran musician's biography, "Breath of Gold", by journalist Sathya Saran, he secretly started learning at the age of 15 from a classical vocalist called Raja Ram in the neighbourhood. He soon drifted towards the more instrumental dimension of it through the bamboo flute that has become synonymous with the maestro.

It was only when he was to leave for a job with the All India Radio as a performer in Cuttack, Odisha, in 1957 that his father came to know about his son's passion for the flute.

"Wrestlers tend to fight every day, whether it is with other wrestlers or with vegetable vendors in a market. But flute requires devotion, service of people, service of the guru, you need to keep the master happy because he is akin to god, it is a line that only very fortunate ones get to carry forward," Chaurasia said.

The music composer and director received national and international recognition through several awards and accolades such as the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, the Padma Vibhushan, the Padma Bhushan and the title of 'Officer in the Order of Orange-Nassau' from the Government of the Netherlands.

Chaurasia was also appointed Knight in the Order of Arts and Letters by France.

In his long years associated with the flute, Chaurasia has worked with leading names in the world of music, including singer-songwriter George Harrison of The Beatles, English guitarist John McLaughlin, legendary sitarist Ravi Shankar and tabla player Zakir Hussain.

After moving to Mumbai, then Bombay, in 1962, Chaurasia gradually went up the popularity ladder by working in films, including "Jahan Ara" (1964), "Umrao Jaan" (1981), and "Hero" (1983), playing an interlude here and there.

The iconic tune played by actor Bharat Bhushan and then Jackie Shroff playing his son in Subhash Ghai's "Hero" overnight became Chaurasia's calling card and is still remembered.

Even though Chaurasia and Sharma worked in several films together, it was only with Yash Chopra's romance drama "Silsila" (1981) that both artistes came to be known as Shiv-Hari, a music director duo that delivered blockbuster music film after film.

Talking about the films of the era, Chaurasia said after reaching Bombay, he saw many talented people and thought of trying his luck in the film industry.

"We worked a lot in films and the driving force was always this that if these talented people can make music, then why not us. And by god's grace, it all went well."

The Shiv-Hari duo was behind the still remembered music of "Chandni" (1989), "Lamhe" (1991), and "Darr" (1993) among several other films.

"Forgive me for saying this but today's films and music do not touch people. Can they make 'Mughal-e-Azam' today, or 'Anarkali', or 'Baiju Bawra'? Nobody has it in them to make such cinema. Today, they discuss it for two hours and make a film in a day," Chaurasia said disapprovingly.

The octogenarian artiste still has hope for the younger generation, who he said are more interested in learning than his own generation was back in the day.

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