Monday, August 08, 2005

Dilli ka apna Orpheus

One part of a mental map of CP – Haggle at Janpath, fortify yourself by drinking cold coffee at DePaul's, walk along the mirrored Jeevan Bharti building looking at the weird reflections, pause in the subway leading from Jeevan Bharti to N-Block (Wimpy's) to listen to the bansuri waala.

Balbir Kumar has been selling flutes in CP since 1982, in the subway for the past ten years, and his distinctive playing echoing off the walls of the subway has become a landmark for many. Even to standard Hindi film tunes he gives his own distinctive twist. Most people just walk by, but those who stop to listen open strange doors. Balbir has played in jazz clubs in Holland and Germany for three years, without ever reading the sheet music.

He came back because he couldn't take the 'fast life'. Back to playing music in increasingly noisy CP, and occasionally selling flutes. And continued to touch people's lives, even those who only slowed down momentarily to hear him. Gulshan Kumar wanted to bring out an album, but then he got bumped off. Then one hot summer day in 1998, a Danish musicologist called Gunnar Muhlmann (there's an umlaut on the U) heard him in the subway, recorded him in a small hotel room, and took the music back to Denmark. He came back next year, wanting to make an album.

Now Balbir is forty nine and in poor health, and not seen in the subway as often as he'd like to be. He's going to be in and out of hospital for a few months. Meanwhile Music Today has brought out Gunnar and Balbir's album called 'Delhi' as part of their Amazing India series.

Meanwhile, Balbir still sits in the subway. Orpheus to our truncated under-worlds.
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