Becoming an expert

A profile of flautist Pravin Godkhindi

Pravin Godkhindi

The notes of the many flutes filled the sultry afternoon air outside Pravin Godkhindi’s residence in south Bengaluru. Several young students playing their flutes were seated on the floor, each one concentrating on the day’s lesson. Pravin’s own musical schooling was somewhat different. He displayed his prodigious talent when he was about four years old, playing an Asha Bhosle song on his little flute. His father, Venkatesh Godkhindi, was close by, shaving, when he overheard his son’s tune. When questioned, the lad said he was playing a song that he had heard on the radio from memory. That was a revelation for Venkatesh, who realised that Pravin had an extraordinary grasp of melody. That began a fascinating period of musical training, with the father as the guru leading his young shishya, teaching him the nuances of Hindustani music.

Like father...

Venkatesh had already established a name for himself as an eminent Hindustani flute player and singer of thekirana gharana of Hindustani music. He was then working in All India Radio (AIR) Dharwad as an ‘A’ graded artiste. He would make Pravin play with him as he sang, urging him to do with his flute what he was doing with his voice. Sometimes, it would be the other way around. “He told me, ‘If you want to become a great flautist, you should be able to sing what you play, and play what you sing’,” recalled Pravin, as we chatted in the state-of-the-art recording studio in the basement of his home.

Pravin gave his first public concert when he was hardly eight years old. His elder brother Kiran is today a noted tabla player. As children, they competed with each other in public performances.

“Until I was 19 years, my aim of performing on stage was to get more applause than Kiran,” he laughed. The third generation of the Godkhindi family is already creating waves — 12-year-old Shadaj, Pravin’s son, has music flowing in his veins. The guru had trained his grandson like he had his son, and before Venkatesh’s death in 2015, the trio had played the flute together in some memorable concerts.

Venkatesh’s job with the AIR meant postings to other radio stations. As the father travelled from Dharwad to Goa, Hyderabad, and finally, Delhi, before returning to Bengaluru, his sons journeyed through their childhood to their teens, absorbing vocal and instrumental music that no conventional training could match. Pravin learned the subtleties of ragas. “Kishori Amonkar’s rendition of Yaman Raaga would be different from that of Bhimsen Joshiji’s... it was fascinating,” he remarked.

Radio star

By 19, Pravin was already assessed as a B+ graded AIR artiste, the youngest ever to achieve this. He was in Delhi at the time, and was determined to get the coveted A grade, which he did shortly after. He wanted to stay back at the national capital and pursue music, but his father insisted that he earn a degree first. So, he returned to Dharwad to do an engineering course.

Pravin’s early exposure to great musicians included Pandit Ravishankar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Allah Rakha, Zakir Hussain, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Gangubai Hanagal and other luminaries. He learned how they planned concerts, especially jugalbandis.

Pravin has shared the stage with many musical legends. He has been training to play the mridangam under Anoor Ananthakrishna Sharma since 1997. They often perform jugalbandis together.

Pravin is trying to spread classical music through his style. “I am at my best when I am playing solo, with my best tabla player and two tampuras. But I do a lot of fusion shows; I play film songs. And apart from this, I am also trying to make a decent living,” he said candidly.

“If a beautiful tune touches your heart, even for a few seconds, that melody rings in your ears when you go out of the hall. That is what I want my audiences to go out with,” he said.

And that is what I went out with.

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