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Lure of the lute

ARUNA CHANDARAJU

As a child Ronu Majumdar played with flutes and even broke many. It was much later that he realised that it filled his life with rasa



Many Strains R.D. Burman was a big influence on Ronu

For someone who is regarded as a flute maestro and whose music defines so much of his life, interestingly, the first encounters with the instrument were rather destructive! Pandit Ronu Majumdar says as a child he enjoyed playing with flutes as toys and even broke a few of them. “My father beat me up for that!” He then told Ronu that he would have to learn to play the instrument well if he wanted to be forgiven. “That is how I began music classes from him. And today it is music which has made life rasapoorn for me.”

His father like other guides whom he encountered later in life, also taught him equally valuable life-lessons. “My father taught me to see God through music and said that being honest to music was all-important.”

Talking of sitar legend and his grand-guru Ravi Shankar, Ronu says: “He is more than a Bharat Ratna –– a World Ratna. Just being with him was a constant learning process. Two lessons stand out. He told me, don't put on a show of sincerity, be sincere. And don't resist the flow of life –– go with that natural flow.”

Ronu says he has benefited enormously from the teachings of his guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba. “As a flautist I am especially fond of this saying of Baba about the need to be egoless and surrender to God: ‘Be like a flute, a hollow reed, straight, light, with no substance to hinder God's breath. Then He will breathe divine music through you.' Baba's divine love translated into great philanthropy is so inspiring.”

Someone who seems the other end of Sai Baba, Osho also had a word for Ronu “not to become a photocopy of any person”. Osho told me: ‘Be original'. Once, after a concert he asked if had played for myself or anyone else. I laughingly replied that I had played for myself as I was not being paid for the performance. Osho replied that I should always play for myself whether I was paid or not.

At this point, poetry-loving Ronu breaks into shaayiri: “Apne aibo par jo nazar nahin rakhte, aina unko dikhathe hai zamanewale. We must constantly introspect, and always keep correcting ourselves. And I believe honesty is the best policy. When I am asked to render a raga I don't know, I will say ‘I have not learnt it' instead of ‘mood nahin hai', as is tempting to do.”

R.D. Burman was a big influence and also a mentor who introduced Ronu to Bollywood. “Panchamda would say even if girl is beautiful but has overdone her make-up, she does not impress. Once when I played with much ornamentation he chided me: ‘Is this the last thing you will play for me? Will you never get another chance? Give your music breathing space.' He taught me the importance of restraint and balance.”

D.M. Tagore, of taar shehnai fame (it's heard in “Tere Mere Sapne” from “Guide”) taught Ronu to respect light music and draw on its beauty. Tagore also taught Ronu to listen more and talk less as that attitude helps one learn more.

Goan musician Stanley Gomes with whom Ronu was associated helped him understand the concepts and nuances of western music including chords, harmony, etc., and also how to approach a new system with humility. “This training has been of immense help in my collaborative work. It is vital to have some background in western classical music before attempting fusion with that genre. Sadly, not many care for that –– one of the reasons, perhaps, that fusion is sometimes degenerating into confusion.”

Giving voice

Playing for a disciplined audience of schoolboys and staff at Rashtriya Military School, Pandit Ronu Majumdar began the Spic-Macay-organised concert with an exquisite alaap in Mangal Bhairav (jhap thaal), traversing the octaves with consummate ease. After setting a tranquil mood with the languorous pace, he proceeded to a brisker rendition. Ronu proceeded to play and sing (he is also a trained vocalist) the bhajan “Payoji Maine”, ending with a brief “Vande Mataram” (Desh raag). Kiran Yavagal on tabla and flautist Shivlingappa Rajapur provided able support.

Since it was a Spic-Macay event aimed at increasing cultural awareness among the young, Ronu made the concert as educative and interactive as possible. He prefaced every piece with a brief introduction and even got the boys involved in singing and clapping with him during the second half.

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