Photo by Tonmoy Iftekhar

India, Music, and 50 years of Coincidences

Carolyn North

Living in India in the 1960s, I wanted to study the bass bamboo flute but was told that such an instrument did not exist. I knew it did because I had heard a recording of one, but where I lived in the Ganges Plain, nobody had heard of it. The local flute maker even made me a set of flutes to demonstrate that such a long flute did not exist.

Months later, taking a walk in Old Delhi, I literally heard the flute playing somewhere nearby, followed the sound, and discovered a young man playing the bass bamboo flute in a garden! I entered the garden, we met, he became my teacher, and a year later, when my family was leaving for home in California, he asked if I could help him come to perform in the US. Of course I said yes but had no idea if or how to ever do such a thing. Almost 2 years passed before I acted on my promise, and one day I knew I had to try.  I phoned a local radio station, told them I had a reel-to-reel tape of this man’s music and asked if they might be willing to put it on the air. It turned out they were searching for something to broadcast at 11 a.m. that day. I went to the station, introduced this man and his wish to perform in America, played the tape, and gave out my phone number. When I arrived home, the phone was ringing: it was somebody on the board of the Ali Akhbar College of Music, nearby, who was looking for a bass flute player for their faculty.

The man who called was the person delegated to find him! He swore that he never turned on the radio at that hour but did that day! And heard that this musician was a genius, and how soon could he come, as the semester started in 2 weeks

Two weeks later, my friend arrived. We picked him up at the airport–he was in shock for the first few weeks–and went on to have a 50-year career of performing and teaching all over the world. He lived with his family 20 minutes from where we lived, and they became part of our family for the next 50 years!

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