Emerging from Lockdown 4.0, one is greeted by Breath of Gold: Hariprasad Chaurasia by Sathya Saran. It reads like a Bollywood screenplay. There is music, romance and loves of the Man with the Golden Flute, the son of a wrestler, who used to start his mornings in the akhara, and practiced his flute secretly till he found a job at the All India Radio.
A transfer sees him in the City of Dreams—Bombay (now Mumbai)—where the next halt is in the world of cinema. This is where he meets Shivkumar Sharma—who was to become his friend and music partner.
Chaurasia’s meteoric rise straddles continents on a dream run that fetched him numberless citations, awards and recognitions. He has taken a ‘bamboo-reed-with-six-holes’ to international renown.Somehow the biographer is in awe of the great man with the result that finer details fall through the planks.
Where did the magical days of childhood vanish? Were they lost to wrestling? Can you dismiss his first wife Kamala in just a page and a half? She seems to be mentioned as an afterthought—if not an apology—as a few lines in the chapter on his second marriage to Anuradha. It was common in the times for marriages to be arranged by parents (in his case by a widowed father) and there were two children from that marriage (who later picked up his mantle). One seems rushed to the peaks forgetting base camp!
Sathya Saran takes the reader through the gamut of a musical journey that turns into a telephone directory’s litany of the flautist’s achievements and events. Biographies should be ‘warts and all’ not the cover of a CD with just glimpses of gig lamps. The book turns into a plod through the film studios of Mumbai—by a genius who turned the flute into a classical instrument. And it is natural for a reader to expect some exaltation, if not inspiration from a maestro.
How I wish there was more on the man rather than the ragas he so obviously mastered! Instead there could have been a plunge into the psyche with incidents to trawl for hidden gems that contributed in no small measure to make him into who he became.That, and the world of movies left me cold. They gave him a stage; they gave him financial security and they were his bread-butter-jam. To list them is to count the cartridges after smoke has settled. In my humble opinion, going easy on the sugar would have made this book a better biography and a true tribute to a virtuoso.