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‘put appreciation ahead of money’

Pandit Birju Maharaj had to face a tough battle after his father died when he was just nine. But the prodigy was spotted at 14 and became a legendary exponent of kathak.Vimal Chander Joshi Reports

education Updated: Jul 28, 2009 13:30 IST
Vimal Chander Joshi

When Pandit Birju Maharaj gave a mesmerising performance at the All Bengal Music Conference at the tender age of 14, the entire hall was transfixed. Many music lovers who could not find a proper seat in the hall spread newspapers on the floor to sit on. That was when the kathak exponent Birju Maharaj was born for this world.

This Padma Vibhushan awardee slogged from being a teacher in Sangeet Bharati to the choreographer in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Devdas in 2002. “At the age of 14, I started teaching at Sangeet Bharati after my father’s death. I used to commute by bus from my house in Delhi’s Daryaganj to the academy for the job, which gave me around Rs 200 per month. I used to ride a bicycle, too, which I still have. It goes by the name of Robin Hood,” he says.

He turned over a new leaf after moving to Mumbai and trained with his uncle Lachhu Maharaj, a Bollywood choreographer.

Key to success
One has to work with 100 per cent devotion and sincerity to make it big in life. All other things should remain inconsequential. “My mother used to insist that we could compromise on clothes or food, but not on riyaaz,” he says.
An unforgettable moment
After one of his shows in Mumbai, the audience was so enthralled that a silence fell over the hall as people forgot even to clap for a few moments. “I had been so engrossed in the performance that later, only when the people started clapping, I could come out of my reverie,” recalls Maharaj.

Youth icon
Birju Maharaj does not worry about the so-called waning of interest of youngsters in classical music. “My academy, Kalashram, has more than 200 students and recently more than 400 youngsters participated in a kathak workshop in Mumbai. And likewise at a similar workshop in Kolkata, around 350 people learnt kathak movements.”
His advice
Hard work and dedication are imperative for success in any field. But in this domain, more than money, one ought to be satisfied by the audience’s blessings and love. “Money is a big thing, but it’s not everything,” says Maharaj.