I’m trying to maintain classical music’s purity: Debu Chaudhuri (Interview)

New Delhi, May 28 (IANS) Sitar maestro Pandit Devabrata Chaudhuri says he is striving to keep ‘pure classical music alive in an age of improvisations’ and believes it should be made compulsory in schools in order to create an appreciative body of listeners.

‘A section of young artists is trying to make the sitar too modern by introducing new sounds and fusing it with other genres of music. But I am a chip off the old block and I try to maintain the traditional purity of the instrument,’ Debu Chaudhuri – as he is popularly known – told IANS in an interview ahead of his 75th birthday May 30.

Awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1993, he is one of the few exponents of the Senia gharana that descends from Tansen, the legendary musician in emperor Akbar’s court. Born in Kolkata, Chaudhuri moved to the capital in 1960 to teach at Delhi University.

The maestro is currently penning a book, ‘Sitar And Its Music’ that will be published in two months. ‘I have written six books. The last one was published by Wisdom Tree,’ he said.

One of the reasons that prompts him to write on the ‘sitar and its evolution’ is the ‘neglect of pure classical sitar’.

‘I want classical music to be introduced as compulsory in schools like sports. We need an appreciative body of listeners in future for classical music to flourish,’ he said.

The problem with the audience today is ‘most of them are poorly informed about the finer nuances of classical music and soirees draw thin crowds’, he said.

He is also paying back his mentor, Ustad Mustaq Ali Khan of the historic Senia gharana, with a new cultural centre at Jasola ‘to keep the legacy of pure classical music alive in an age of improvisations’.

‘My mission is to keep my guru’s musical legacy alive till I die. He was not honoured when he was alive because he did not play to the gallery. I want GenNext to know about his contribution to the Senia gharana.

‘He not only regenerated the school of Mian Tansen’s music but was also one of the few musicians who played a sitar with 17 frets which is one of the oldest forms of the instrument. A normal sitar has 19 or 20 frets,’ the guru said.

On April 4, Chaudhuri laid the foundation of the Ustad Mustaq Ali Khan Centre for Culture.

‘We hope to complete work on it by the end of this year. The centre will be unique because it will be one of the few cultural complexes in the capital named after a teacher, not the practitioner,’ the maestro told IANS.

Ustad Mustaq Ali Khan (1911-1989) was among the great masters who helped Indian classical music survive in the 20th century in the traditional ‘guru-shishya parampara’. He was a rare surbahar (bass sitar) exponent in India, Chaudhuri said.

‘I have created an archive with all my teacher’s music, teachings and his achievements that I want to use as a resource pool for music students,’ he said.

Chaudhuri is credited with composing eight original ‘ragas’ that include Bisweswari, Palash-Sarang and Shivamanjari.

The maestro, who composed ‘raga’ Prabhati Manjari in memory of his wife who died five years ago, ‘will cut a disc featuring tracks based on the raga this year’.

‘After my wife, Manju Chaudhuri, passed away five years ago, I wanted to compose something in her memory. I created the sad, soft and spiritual Prabhati Manjari raga. After composing it, I realised there were some bhajans based closely on the raga. My wife used to sing one of them, ‘Tere Naina Kyon Bhar Aaye…’.

‘The first raga that I composed in 1970 was known as Bisweswari after my father,’ he said.

He laments that ‘a classical musician had to sink his teeth into Bollywood (movie) music to be acknowledged as a musician’.

‘Only then, the practitioner becomes financially and aesthetically viable to the audience,’ the maestro said.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at [email protected])