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`Today, music is about cloning'

Photo: K. V. Srinivasan

His father wanted him to build his muscle power, but Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia instead chose to prove his musical prowess. Though son of a wrestler, he preferred alaap to akhadas. And grew up to become the master of the bamboo reed, drawing millions of people into the magical sphere of his music. The jet-setting Hari's romance with the bansuri began at the age of five, when he heard a boy playing the flute. Drawn by its lilting sound, young Hari followed him. After some time, when the boy put the flute down to have some water, Hari picked it up and ran away. And the rest as they say is history.

Ustad Rais Khan, one of the finest sitar players, hails from one of the oldest and most renowned musical families. Some of his ancestors were revered musicians in the courts of the Mughal emperors. His taalim (training) began when he was hardly two, on a small coconut shell sitar. Since his first public performance more than six decades ago, he continues to impress music lovers across the world with his inimitable style. Also a highly skilled vocalist, the Ustad's sitar has been an integral part of the background scores of many yesteryear films.

The maestros entered the Taj Connemara arm-in-arm. Friends for many years, they agreed, disagreed, joked and laughed, making the Take Two as lively as their sangeet. Chitra Swaminathan recorded the conversation.

Hariprasad: (Looking at the photographer) So, you're going to shoot us?

Rais Khan: No weapon is stronger than our instruments. The melody is so overpowering.

Hariprasad: Wah! Sahab. Is baat pe kuch chai aur toast ho jaye. (So let's have some tea and bread). (Completely at ease before the camera, they go about posing like enthusiastic youngsters) I feel we should have Nature as the background. (Seeing the reporter nodding) My thinking always matches that of a woman.

Rais Khan: But I don't think it works vice-versa. (laughs)

Hariprasad: (Quickly changes the topic) Arey, look at this beautiful swimming pool (pointing to a big urli with flowers floating on water) Aren't you reminded of the lucky Shah Rukh in that ad?

Rais Khan: You are unstoppable. But I think such light-hearted banter has seen us through life. We have never got anything easily. We were made to practise till our fingers bled. We would walk, travel by bus, bullock cart and train for concerts that were often held in remote villages.

Hariprasad: These have given us the strength and patience to sustain our passion for so many years.

Rais Khan: But the way things are changing now, it is frightening. The term `innovation' is acquiring weird definitions. The audience is so unpredictable that you don't know what they want.

Hariprasad: We are to be blamed for allowing all this to happen. In the name of novelty, we have been tampering with the sanctity of stage performances.

Rais Khan: How can you say that? People like us are still following the conventional format.

Hariprasad: What about the Gen Next artistes? They are victims of commercial compulsions. It's quite a balancing act, pleasing the audience, sponsors and event managers. So they come up with bizarre ideas to hook listeners.

It is happening everywhere. Unfortunately, even in tradition-loving South India. I remember those days when I used to come here to record music for S.S. Vasan's films and for months together tour interior Tamil Nadu performing with stalwarts of Carnatic music.

Rais Khan: Don't you feel uncomfortable about the present scenario?

Hariprasad: Don't lose heart. This is just a passing phase. The flute is my god, swaras are my mantras and the shishyas at my Vrindavan gurukul (his school) are extremely dear to me. These are enough to keep me focussed.

Rais Khan: Don't get me wrong, I am not averse to any genre, even pop or jazz. But one should learn sincerely and then perform. Patchwork puts me off. It will never take you far.

Hariprasad: As long as discerning listeners are there, good music will survive. Recently, I performed a morning raga concert at the Gateway of India at 6 a.m. To my amazement, the place was packed with people since five in the morning. Sadly, today radio and television have become dead media as far as the classical arts are concerned. As for our culture department, the less said the better. They feel their role ends with distributing awards. I have reached a stage, where if I don't enjoy doing something, I move away from the scene. For instance, my friend Shiv Kumar Sharma (most Yash Chopra productions had music by Shiv-Hari) and I decided to stop composing music for films.

Rais Khan: One reason why I too called it quits in the 1980s. After having worked with the likes of Madan Mohan, Vasant Desai, C. Ramchander, Roshan and Laxmikant Pyarelal, you feel today's songs lack soul. Thanks to the electronic era, music is now more about cloning than composing.

So, I prefer living in the past by humming gems such as "Piya to se nayana laage re", "Rashmeulfat ko nibhayen", "Mein to tum sang" and "Lag ja gale... "

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