By Devanshi Khetarpal, Staff Writer
On Nov 16, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia performed in the Kaufmann Concert Hall at 92nd Street Y. He was accompanied by Pandit Subhankar Banerjee on the tabla and Jay Gandhi on the bansuri. The event was presented by the World Music Institute, whose very first concert, The Festival of India, was held in 1985 at the 92nd Street Y, where Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia had performed more than 30 years ago.
The concert hall was packed with people, waiting patiently for Chaurasia to arrive. As soon as he stepped on the stage, members of the audience stood up immediately while he himself joined his hands and bowed down gently. Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, now seventy-nine years of age, started by jokingly stating that he was going to perform shorter ragas since he is old now. He played the flute and the bansuri, a bamboo flute that’s blown from the side.
When Pandit Chaurasia sat down to play, he and the instrument became one. His energy was conspicuous in the way he moved, elegant and controlled but free and spirited at the same time. Each of the ragas he performed were different in flavour. One sounded like the waves of the gentlest sea approaching, whereas the other was infused with the rich and carefree scent of love. Audiences gasped and sat still throughout the performance, hypnotised by his music and aura.
At certain points, his breath quivered, showing how age, too, could affect a titan like Pandit Chaurasia. But throughout the concert, it was clear why he is one of the greatest musicians in world music. Having worked or performed with western musicians like John McLaughlin and George Harrison as well as towering figures of Indian classical music like Ustad Zakir Hussain and Pandit Jasraj, to name a few, Pandit Chaurasia is no foreigner to the stage, and certainly not to the WMI or 92nd Street Y.
The way he performs is enigmatic. He lets the audience enter a private experience, one where there is much room for intuition and rawness amidst mastery. The accompaniment of the tabla and the flute helped accentuate the sound of the bansuri. While improvising, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia would look almost teasingly at Gandhi and Pandit Banerjee, playing the bansuri and never failing to deliver a surprise.
When the concert ended, there was a thunder of applause, with the audience immediately getting up to give a standing ovation to Pandit Chaurasia. Many members of the audience exclaimed how they didn’t want the concert to end. Nearly everyone smiled as as he walked off the stage. There was more to his concert than just three ragas, there was something nearly divine about it. Many were at a loss of words. Everyone was still intrigued as they walked out of the Kaufmann concert hall, still hypnotised.