Hariprasad Chaurasia: Breath of Gold

Posted on December 5, 2019


A plug for my friend Sathya Saran’s book: HARIPRASAD CHAURASIA: BREATH OF GOLD, in her words (from the book). I thought it would be of interest to many readers of this blog.

.1957. He watches the terrain swiftly sweep past, as the train rattles along. He is leaving behind everything familiar. Home, family, friends, and those he has shared music with. He wonders what is in store ahead; there is a knot of uncertainty in his mind.

He has never travelled alone, except for that furtive, ill-fated journey with Jagannath to Bombay. But this time he has a ticket in his pocket, a window to lean against, the cool evening wind in his face, and even the luxury of a berth to climb on to at night. All courtesy his new job with All India Radio, popularly known as AIR.

He feels a sudden elation. The akhada will claim him no more. He is a musician, officially. He grips his flute tighter, his talisman, his companion. He now owns more than one instrument, and he smiles when he thinks of the flutes clacking companionably against each other in his suitcase.

His father had come into the room while he was packing them away.

‘So many flutes!’ he had exclaimed. ‘When did you learn to play music?’

‘I had told him just a while ago, on the day I was leaving,’ Hariprasad remembers, ‘and for the first time in my life I saw my father cry. His eyes filled as he said, “I have tried to be a father and a mother to you children. I did not marry again for your sake, and now you are leaving me alone! If you were so fond of music, you should have told me.” I told him I had not dared, I had been afraid of his anger. Now, of course, it was too late.’

His father had been mollified when he told him he was leaving to take up a job at the Cuttack radio station of AIR on a salary of 180 rupees. In those days, that was a sum sure to impress any father, and a clear jump from what the government job had offered. Besides, uncertain as he himself was of whether he would be able to handle life alone in a strange city, Hariprasad told his father he would give it a try for a month, and if things did not work out, he would return.

Certain that the boy would not last long in an unfamiliar place or do anything remarkable enough to be retained at the job, Pehelwan Sahib gave him permission to go.

Taking a deep breath, Hariprasad relives the feeling of freedom he got when his father uttered the word ‘Go’. He is flying freer than any bird in flight!

The mood lingers as he reaches Calcutta, with its bustling platforms and thronging crowds. Strange calls reach his ears as hawkers walk past, calling out their wares. He has hours to kill before the connecting train that will take him to his destination, so he walks about, taking in the sight of the Howrah Bridge, tasting the clay as he drinks tea from earthen cups, awaiting the Jagannath Puri Express. When it steams in late in the evening, our young flautist boards it and soon falls into a sound, dreamless sleep. But something tells him he will meet his destiny where he is going.