256pp, Rs599; penguin.
After getting a job at All India Radio in Kattak, Orissa in 1957, flutist Pandit Haryprasad Chaurasia was destroyed when he was transferred to Bombay five years later. He decided to try it for a month and quit if it didn’t work. It turned out that Chaurasia quickly became the most popular flutist in both Hindu classical music and Hindu film music. From musician to music director to a respected guru, his career has been one of the highlights.
In his biography Satya Saran tells the story of master flutist Haryprasad Chaurasia, who plays with ease: Breath of gold. In addition to her musical performances, she brings warmth, friendliness and a sense of humour through a series of anecdotes. Saran’s elegant and captivating style is reflected in her early musical biographies of gazelle maestro Jagjit Singh and composer SD Burman’s ace, and here she effortlessly reveals Chaurasia’s musical personality.
Many adherents of Hindu classical music are familiar with the great events in Chaurasia’s life and career, such as his training in a struggling family, his first chances, his marriage to Anurad Chaurasia and his training with the Surbahar exhibitor Annapurna Devi, his collaboration and friendship with the maestro-santologist Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, and his role in teaching at the Bansouri of his Gurukouls in Mumbai and Bhubaneswar and at the Rotterdam Conservatoire in the Netherlands. In his earlier biographies, Surzhit Singh, Forest Winds of Change, and Uma Vasudev, Bamboo Cane Romance, his contribution is extensive, and Saran quotes extensively from the first. This film complements the dance documentary Bansouri by his son Rajeev Chaurasiya.
Saran adds to this by mixing chronologically advancing developments with deposits relating to specific incidents. The sections deal with the training of the musician in Allahabad, his days in Kattak and Bombay, his classical career, film music, international concerts and the role of guru.
The Golden Breath is preceded by a Hindi poem Maya Govind translated into English by Saran, an introduction by Maestro Sarod Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and the prelude to the magic of the tabla Ustad Zakir Hussein, who describes Chaurasia as one of his mentors who, together with Shivkumar Sharma, helped him to decipher and understand my tabla.
The first chapters tell how the young Chaurasia fell in love with music. He listened attentively to his mother singing lullabies. After his death, his father, Chedilal Phelvan, took care of three children. Although he was a fighter who wanted his two sons to follow in his footsteps, Chedilal also knew how to sing bhajana. The young Chaurasia hid his passion for the flute by looking for a guru.
Previously, the world of Bansouri was ruled by Pandit Pannal Ghosh, who died in 1960. When Chaurasya, aged 19, got a job at SIO with a then decent salary of 180 rupees, his father let him go thinking he couldn’t bear to be alone in Kattak and come back soon. Luckily he was the only flautist among the violinists, sitars, surba resin, crickets and tabla players of the radio station. He was inundated with work, and the experience gave him confidence.
The book describes Chaurasia’s work in film, starting with a phone call from Master Sonic, who assisted the music director Madan Mohan and asked him to come to the studio quickly because the original flutist had not arrived. Soon the orders came in. Everyone wanted me, Chaurasia is quoted as quoting the best composers of the time.
His connection with Shivkumar Sharma is described in detail on his 1967 album Call Of The Valley, which also features guitarist Bridge Bhooshan Cabra. And also the collaboration of Shiv Hari’s team with filmmaker Yash Choproi, starting with Sillila in 1981, where they convinced Amitabh Bachchan to sing.
For more information: Sneaking into the world of music.
We remember the creation of the famous flute melody in the film Hero of Subhash Gai, although it’s strange that the director claims to have heard Chaurasia’s music for the first time on CD – a format not released in India until 1983. There are other inaccuracies in the well-structured book. The song of Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan is called, although he was in fact the master of the garden. Annapurna Devi Akash Ganga’s building is located on Warden Road, Mumbai, and not Pedder Road as mentioned above. The initials of HMV senior officials are false – Dubai VC (not UK) and Joshie GN (not JN). Umrao Jaan was released in 1981, not 1986.
Although readers may not have noticed these shortcomings, a little more attention would have been paid to the order. Of course, they do not distract attention from the book’s main purpose, which is to provide a detailed account of Chaurasia’s great and formidable contribution. For lovers of classical music it is worth collecting.
Narendra Kussnur is a music critic. He lives in Mumbai.