From the magician's music box
His musical journey began long before he started globetrotting with eminent classical dancers. Meet Kailash Sharma, a Hindustani flautist.
`Oh dear, the boy has forgotten all his music. How nicely he used to play film songs on his flute! Ever since he started lessons, the tunefulness has gone.' Today Hindustani flautist Kailash Sharma can look back with a smile at this reaction from his family and friends when his quest for a guru landed him at the feet of Prakash N. Saxena at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, arguably the foremost music institution in the Capital.
"I think every child probably has an attraction for the flute. I was particularly fascinated. I lived in Chandni Chowk, and lots of magicians would pass through. They played the flute with one hand, and the damroo with the other. I was memerised by this melange of sur and tala and followed them all over the neighbourhood. They must have wondered, this kid is only interested in the flute, not the magic tricks. Anyway, they told me they were not there to teach, so I had to be content with listening. During religious processions, I only waited for the bansuri sellers to appear at the end, but they also could not teach me anything. Finally I met a neighbour who played the flute, but he too disappointed me, saying the flute was something to be learnt through individual effort, not taught."
Kailash's account is tinged with humour, and his undimmed enthusiasm today is evidence of the ardour that must have consumed him as an eight-year-old. "Finally I went to my bandmaster in school. But there I learnt fixed tunes on the metal flute, which didn't have the magic of the bamboo."
Kailash's elder brother was in an administrative position at All India Radio. "I would go there during holidays, and I loved to entertain everyone there with my flute, playing folk tunes, film songs and the like." One day the eminent flautist Prakash Wadhera heard him play. "He listened to me for two hours. My whole repertoire of patriotic songs, film music and folk tunes. Then he told my brother I should learn formally, and suggested I go to his disciple Prakash N. Saxena at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. I was 13 or 14 then."
Not just mediocre
On completing his graduation from Kirorimal College, Kailash recalls, "I was average at studies, but I got a good response to my music. I didn't want to be mediocre, so I decided to work very hard and be a musician." His elders were aghast. "I took my parents to my concerts and they began to see it was a respectable profession."
Meanwhile, Kailash had begun to perform in the Gandharva Choir under the recommendation of his guru. He also accompanied Odissi dancer Madhavi Mudgal in her performances. Besides, he played for celebrated artistes like Sanjukta Panigrahi and Protima Bedi. "I travelled around India and other countries. Till 1988 I didn't have a phone. I used to get telegrams informing me about the programmes. I joined All India Radio as a flute artiste in 1988."
Kailash performed in Pandit Ravi Shankar's ensemble from 1985 to '97 and feels this was an important juncture in his career. "To know how a musician sees you - that recognition is a great thing for me."
Now concentrating on his solo career, he has played in Ravi Shankar's ballet `Ghanshyam' and other important orchestral events like the closing ceremony of the Festival of India in the USSR. Throughout his narration, what is prominent about Kailash is his commitment to excel. Working briefly with Peter Brookes on his famous "Mahabharata", he rejected his offer of a place in the troupe to return to India, feeling he was still in the early stages of his career and wanting to make a mark as an individual.
"Gradually I reduced my engagements as a dance accompanist, as once you are a government employee it is necessary to apply for permission every time you go abroad. However I have an understanding with Madhaviji that whenever she needs me to play I will be there for her."
Saying he has no objection to being an accompanist, Kailash points out he put the lid on any remaining controversy when he married Odissi dancer Ambikaa Panicker. "I always play for her performances," he adds cheerfully.
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