Interview: WOMAD musician shares the joy

Pandit Robu MajumdarThere he is, in home territory, Mumbai, sharply depicted against a pristine Zoom greenscreen.

But it does not take long for this Indian musician to transcend the cold efficiency of technology and convey a sense of ethereal beauty. And this is before he has even revealed, let alone played, his remarkable instrument.


Pandit Robu Majumdar has nothing less than a presence of magical good spirit.

He says that he is a happy man and happiness is a gift he is empowered to give, along with his music.


His instrument is a three and a half foot-long bamboo flute, called a shank bansuri, self-made by adding to the traditional flute to deliver lower and lovelier octaves than convention heretofore has enabled.

He calls it conch”, inspired by the eerie beauty of the tones of the male conch shell.


He unwraps it from its protective sleeve and shows the join where he extended the traditional flute, laughing that a lot of flute bamboo had to die before he got it the way he wanted it to be.

This is his original instrument. He has more, of course, but this is his beloved prototype.

He raises it to his lips and plays, soft and low, a gentle timeless raga as never heard before.

The tensions of the day ease as one listens, immediately imaging how utterly dreamy and beautiful it will be to hear this music in the lyrical landscape of Botanic Park.


Pandit Robu Majumdar has played several WOMADs including the first one produced in 1997 by WOMAD founder Peter Gabriel in Reading, UK. He has not yet played Australia's and brims with joyful expectations.


One is not surprised when he reveals that George Harrison loved his serene fusion music - and doubtless this sweet man, too. Pandit stayed 15 days with Harrison at his Henley on Thames home back in the day, even helping George with his gardening.


Most significantly, Pandit was the disciple of the great Ravi Shankar, the greatest musician now or ever, he declares - the Mozart of Indian music".


But it was his own father back in Varanasi where he was born who set the ball rolling. His father was not a performer. He was a doctor of homeopathic medicine and music was his hobby. When the boy Pandit dared to play with his fathers flutes, as if they were toys and broke some, his father, he says, did not beat him in anger. Instead, his father said that since he had broken five or six flutes, his punishment was for Pandit to practice the flute for five to six hours a day.


Pandit says he was an honest child and he actually did practice for all the hours, albeit that his schoolwork suffered. He’s still no good at maths.

But, he swoons, “It was the most beautiful punishment in the world.”

It was such a beautiful punishment that I became a flute wallah.” And he laughs.


So now he, himself, is the great guru. Others have copied his conch concept and it makes him feel happy. He holds its copyright and he is content because the beautiful spirituality of his music will go on even when he is no longer here.


At 60, he says he still feels childlike and his innate joyfulness is the thing he gets to spread when he shares his music.


At WOMADelaide, he will have Dr Jayanthi Kumaresh joining him, performing all shows together. And he is looking forward to giving workshops.


WOMADelaide runs from the 10th to the 13th of March at Bontanic Park, in Adelaide.


Samela Harris


When: 10 to 13 Mar

Where: Botanic Park