Kolkata is one of the cultural capitals of the world. Every street houses an interesting story or a character. Today, we live our days mostly on our phones, forgetting to look up and appreciate the beauty of the world and the people around us. This is the story of one such silhouette in the crowd who is just as important as a part of the culture of Kolkata as the Victoria Memorial – a bansuriwalla in Kolkata.
On the street corner of Park Street, in front of Flurys, Mohammad Shiraz has been selling flutes for over ten years now. He has seen the face of Park Street change as he goes there everyday hoping to make a sale. It is important to understand that Shiraz has never been taught to play a flute, he has no access to tutorial videos on YouTube or had the privilege to go a music school, yet he can play most, if not all songs, by ear.
From Game of Thrones to Celine Dion, this guy plays it all
This is a man who never had the education to write out his own name, yet can immediately start playing the Game of Thrones theme song on the flute, given a little time to hear it and figure it out for himself. However, he does not have the privilege to turn into a musician as he should, and must sustain his family, selling flutes.
Originally from Faizabad in Uttar Pradesh, Shiraz started off as a balloon seller at the age of 15. He took after his father who would also sell balloons at carnivals or melas. He sold balloons at carnivals for about five to seven years, and then went on to selling outside the Bhawanipur School for another three years.
Sometime during his time as a balloon seller Shiraz would go back to his village where he would buy a flute from a travelling peddler. He liked the instrument and would start trying to learn to play different songs. Along with innumerable folk songs, one of the first songs he would learn is Celine Dion’s My heart will go on. He felt he had a knack for it, and would learn new songs very quickly.
Eventually he decided to drop out of balloons and go into flutes. He attract buyers by playing the flute, as they hear him play, they get interested in buying one for a rainy day.Folk for the Indian, and My heart will go on for the passing tourist. His music library however is far greater than that, he restricts himself to attract the right buyer.
From selling balloons to flutes, this bansuriwalla in Kolkata has witnessed the changing times in Kolkata
Times have changed, Park Street has changed. Children now want to be on their phones playing a new game instead of learning an instrument, he says. Not as many people are fond of the dedication to a new hobby.
His flutes range anywhere between Rs 150 to Rs 600.
What’s in store in the future?
We however might be looking at the last of a generation. With Shiraz’s children already in government school, he wishes a better life on them. One away from the turmoil of the city street. A more comfortable life with a job where they can truly reap their talents. A man who may have become another great legend of India is on the corner of Park Street selling a flute.
He feels what we fear is truly coming, a day when Kolkata forgets about its own culture. He will do this job as long as he needs to, to sustain his family and give his children a better future, a future in which he is no longer needed. Today, we just may be witnessing the last generation of Bansuriwalla in Kolkata.