Chaurasia Jr. - Blowing in the flute winds

Who will carry on the musical legacy of iconic flautist Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia? The answer is blowing in the wind.

Shubha Mudgal introduces Santosh Sant: ‘He is a musician, who in a sense, represents an interesting meeting point between tradition and modernity. A disciple of the iconic Hariprasad Chaurasia, Santosh Sant follows his guru in many ways- in his attempt to master the complex world of raagdari music and the training and discipline he has undergone and observed.  But for us it is his keen and enthusiastic approach to using technology to become an independent self-publishing artiste, on par with artistes anywhere in the world that makes him a delight to work with. Equally enthusiastic at attempting cross cultural collaborations, Santosh Sant is very much a 21st century Indian musician.’

Editor’s note: All questions regarding the guru-shishya parampara (the mentor-disciple tradition) in Indian classical music are more often than not directed at the guru.
In a break from that tradition, we put a few questions via email to Santosh Sant, Pt.Hari Prasad Chaurasia’s disciple, based both in Gwalior and Mumbai.
Neeraj Gangal, Yahoo’s Business Editor, also a trained Hindustani classical harmonium player, framed the questions. Santosh Sant replied in Hindi. This is a shorter transcript of his answers translated in English by Tisha Srivastav.
At many levels then, this is a tradition transplant session, quite suited to the spirit of questioning just what heritage is, in Yahoo!s World Heritage Day explorations.
Santosh Sant, you’ll find, offers his views in the softest yet scathing way

1. Given that it’s derived from folk music and could claim to be our true musical heritage, why is Indian classical music not a central part of our popular culture – just as film music is?

Both classical and folk are like two sides of our cultural coin. Film music is a much later entrant. Just like the Bahrupiya (a character found in folk traditions who dons many robes and roles and was very popular in rural India once) knows how to entice the crowd, so does film music. But don’t forget that later in the evening when the bahrupiya comes home and takes off the mask and his flashy attire; nobody stops to give a second glance. These same people would go and relax in the fields or by the banyan and sing Phaag, hori, chaiti or kajri (folk music of North India) After a day’s hard work; this would be their authentic ananda.
Now for the matter why it isn’t popular anymore? I squarely blame our medium of public communications. If day after day, you are given one kind of food in your thali, then you will grow used to it, because you are hungry first and foremost. That is how tastes in music have been changed.
But look what happens even today when a Rashid Khan sings, all those barriers and records break. So why not make this kind of music every day, make it available and then see. I say listeners will tune in.

2. What can be done to popularize classical music among very young listeners? Should it be made compulsory in schools just as crafts and arts are?

What kind of a culturally rich atmosphere parents create at home is important. Every festival can be a way to celebrate this richness. In fact we must acquaint them with the musical greats. Pregnant mothers especially can listen and the child right from birth will grow up hearing this quality of depth in sound. At least once a week a mother and child can go for a concert. These are just some suggestions of what each person can do.
See the space organizations like SPICMACAY have created. There are so many young volunteers in many such organizations nationwide. There are just so many ways.
Then where is the need to make it compulsory in schools? Sometimes that itself can become the reason to dislike it. Yes. Schools can organize events which include classical programmes and allow free interaction between the artistes and the children.
Music is always a part of us. We find ourselves humming it in different moods no? So we should leave it to the kids, their parents and surroundings to create such a vibe, such an atmosphere.
3. Is training being imparted at Indian universities and government-backed organizations far too academic and not adequately entertaining and performance oriented?

Sadly this is true. We are obsessed with degrees, not with learning and understanding myriad traditions. This is not true of western nations, mind you. Where any art gets its place more often than not and is not measured one against the other. Any work there is a search and can be a science. But we have hierarchies in this too, here. There is a false air of superiority around classical music, which is entirely uncalled for. Why should it be made boring? The smallest mistake and the young disciple are made to fully lose his or her confidence. Arre, just go back and see your own tradition. [Goddess] Saraswati presents the veena with a smile, not a stern smirk. This is music and the focus of teachers and students should be on exploring creativity together, not on the D.Lit that some university gives and takes.
4. Have we failed to simplify or glamorize our musical traditions? For example, thousands of students across India take the UK-based Trinity grade music exams. Is there a same level of interest say for the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya or Prayag Sangeet Samiti syllabi among international (or even Indian!) students?

Yes, to an extent it is true that we have failed. Classical music is presented as the preserve of the oldie-goldie, as some hallowed portal of sublime talent. When the truth is that anybody can learn it with dedication and hard work. We’re creating all these false halos, in a way that a simple, spontaneous organic atmosphere for learning classical is not being allowed. Even TV shows award the best cover versions and not original creations.
Institutions like Trinity are a draw because it is systematically taught there and has connections which show the way forward to the student interested in music. But in our country learning this is portrayed as a waste of time in institutions.
Do you know that so many of the classical performances happen in the rain, in the outdoors because the indoor spaces are booked for something else? This bias has been there for years. There is only talk of encouraging talent, but who walks the talk?
In such a scenario if any young person wants to learn he or she looks for the music department of a known institution , preferably in the Western university tradition. It is quite shameful to bypass learned gurus but that’s how it is.

5. Do you see any potential in virtual or online classical training? Do you think it is gimmicky or superficial? If yes, what alternatives do you see?

While it maybe common practice that it makes it more available, it is worth pointing out that the Indian classical tradition is not a button press robotic thing. Where will the heart be in this online training? You can’t improve your mistakes through this. That has to be life to life. In my opinion, there is no choice when it comes to this except direct learning.

6. Given that the old brass of purists are either dead or in their 60s-70s, what needs to be done to produce a fresh wave of Bhimsen Joshis, Pt Ravi Shankars and Bismillah Khans?

Look, back then parents did not keep targets for their children. They wouldn’t say listen you have to become an engineer by this year. Or do an MBA. Joint families were there, which also meant not everything was expected from one child. Those who loved something dearly even ran away from home like Pt.Bhimsen Joshi did. When the child ran away, he didn’t go and jump at some railway bridge, he would go and submit himself to his guru and learn day and night. I know some of these things are not possible today.
Which is why the role of government agencies in promoting the possibility of learning classical music as a full time vocation becomes even more crucia l.Today you rarely have parents saying, ‘I will make my child a classical music singer.’ Some direction has to be given clearly for the way forward for that child’s natural talent to bloom.

7. Most of the legends came from a humble background, but each one got a great guru – Pt Ravi Shankar learnt from Baba Allaudin Khan, Bhimsen from Sawai Gandharva and so on. The Gurus were almost like fakirs, sharing their knowledge in exchange of some token fee or work from their disciples. Are we failing to hone exceptional talent simply because great gurus have become elitist, inaccessible or expensive?

I don’t agree because you only said that the taker was poor and the giver a fakir. In such a case where is the question of a business like give and take .The disciple was quite aware that only reaching the pinnacle of learning would be suitable guru dakshina. That is how disciples like the one you mentioned were honed. It was a joint struggle.
Today by the way when lakhs are spent on a kid’s education, why not a little on the guru? This is when a complete guru is a university unto himself?
You’ll be surprised to know that when I sing with my guru, it is he who sometimes who puts money in my pocket. In fact just by way of example, I can’t recall a single instance when Chaurasiaji has taken any money from me. Every great guru knows the financial situation of his disciples and he helps accordingly. In fact it is a classical music guru who often charges the least fee to teach. It is another matter that some talentless soul throwing himself at the guru can be warded off with a high fee!
8. Is Guru-Shishya parampara an outdated model in today’s times? What needs to be done at a social level to revive an interest in it?
See no genuinely glorious tradition can never be outdated .If America is researching yoga, would you call that an outdated system. Why would America do it? In fact some of the students who come to learn from abroad are so sincere, they go the whole hog, wear kurta pyjama, live pretty much in the Indian way so that they can fully imbibe the experience and most of all, and they offer their full time. They can sometimes see over a period of time what surrender really means.
In all this I would say this tradition is in fact getting globalized, not outdated. This can even put some heart in a cold educational experience of schools etc. I’m slowly and surely learning what devotion respect and surrender really means, so can anybody.

Watch a video performance of flautist Santosh Sant. He hails from a family of musicians from Gwalior. This track, titled "Floating on the River", features Dr. Aneesh Pradhan (tabla), Amit Roy (guitar), Deepak Borkar (Rhythm), Anand Sahasrabuddhe (keyboard), & Brinda Chakravarty (tanpura). Video courtesy Underscore Records & Shubha Mudgal