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Delhiwale: The pied piper of Chhatarpur

It has been decades since Raj Kishore Dalbehra left his home for his love for flute. He cannot remember his mother’s name now but for all practical purposes he thinks of her as ‘Saraswati’.

delhi Updated: Jul 25, 2017 15:03 IST
Mayank Austen Soofi
Flautist Raj Kishore Dalbehra plays in his chamber.
Flautist Raj Kishore Dalbehra plays in his chamber.(Mayank Austen Soofi / HT Photo)

A few months ago, flautist Raj Kishore Dalbehra called an English newspaper to ask for the coverage of his forthcoming performance. Nobody picked up the phone. His e-mails, too, went unanswered. “Humko koi nahi poochta,” he told us, lamenting that journalists are not interested in artistes like him.

We meet him at Triveni Kala Sangam. Mr Dalbehra gives flute lessons here. While waiting for students to return from lunch, he tells us the story of his unusual life.

Mr Dalbehra was born 50 years ago in Bhubaneswar. He barely remembers the city. When he was three, Mr Dalbehra took to playing flute, causing much displeasure to his father. He also listened to acclaimed flautist Niranjan Prasad’s recitals on the radio. One afternoon, fed up with his family’s resistance, he packed his bags and left for Delhi. He was not even 10.

Mr Dalbehra took a series of trains to reach the Capital. The first thing he did on getting off was to ask the way to the Akashvani building. On arriving there, he asked the chowkidar if he could meet Niranjan Prasad.

“Guruji laughed when he saw me playing the flute… probably because I was so small,” he says. “But he accepted me as his student.” Mr Dalbehra initially slept on the footpath but later ‘guruji’ offered him shelter at his home.

Today, Mr Rajbehra lives with his family in Chhatarpur. He never returned to his parents and does not know what became of them.

A few years ago, he applied for a passport on being invited to perform in Europe — the first of his many visits abroad. “There was a column in which I had to fill the names of my parents,” says Mr Rajbehra. “My father was Govardhan, but I just couldn’t recall my mother’s name. I thought and thought and finally I wrote Saraswati instead.” As we’re leaving, we notice that Mr Rajbehra’s chamber has a framed portrait of Saraswati, the goddess of learning and arts.