I started playing flute quite late for the standards. After my school that is. Although before I would play little bit of straight flute it was quite basic. One day a friend asked me “You play flute, so why don’t you learn Classical Music? I know a person who lives near my house who is a student of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia “. I had never really thought about it, So I said “Ok, sounds good, but will he teach me?” The flautist said to bring me to him and I started going for lessons.
This guy -The Flautist, was an astonishing chap. In the very second lesson he played Raag Chandrakaunsa and boasted : “See..! The moment you play Madhyam you should feel like being on Moon! What rubbish you keep playing; try this now!”
Wow! Here I was just a beginner. I couldn’t even hold the flute properly, nor could get proper sound! Where was I going to find that Madhyam on the Moon! He got fed up with me in a couple of weeks – meaning about 4 lessons, and then told me ” Don’t come from tomorrow. You are just wasting my time. You will never be able to play flute in your life.” He was quite encouraging.
Meanwhile in the college – Fergusson College of Pune – there was this art club called as Aavishkar. I went and met some intimidating girls there, they told me I didn’t have any place for me there and only good musicians were accepted. On one side my friends said they liked my flute playing and on the other side it were these rejections. That was quite boring really!
Every year Fergusson held the most prestigious college competition of Pune – ‘Insynch’. Already running for a decade or so, it was an inter-collegiate competition and almost all colleges, more than 150-200, from Pune region used to participate in it. [There are more than 80-90 just Management colleges in Pune] There used to be internal selection competitions for deciding who will represent Fergusson. Now this was a great news as I could directly get into playing. I was chosen and I entered the Indian Classical event. I practiced very hard and very well. I had perfectly set the same Raag Chandrakaunsa from an LP of Pt. Hariprasadji and had learnt it by heart very well.
There in Fergusson we have a fabulous century old Amphitheatre and the classical competition was held there. The time given to me was 15 minutes and when I walked on stage the amphitheater was packed with students. They were all there mainly to support the Fergusson entry – that was me ! As the compere announced ” And now the next entry is of Fergusson College – Milind Date ” There was a huge noise I heard from the audience side of the theatre while I walked on stage. Now I had never seen audience from the stage. This was my very first walk on any stage. They were all shouting and screaming to cheering me up.
I thought I was very brave, but in reality I was quite nervous. As I started playing everyone went quiet, intensely listening to me. Now I was very confident about what all I had remembered – that Raag Chandrakaunsa. But I had not expected all that audience and all that shouting and cheering from them. I very quickly forgot everything what I had ‘mugged up’ and the only thing I could do was to play my own version of it. Which obviously sucked.
Within 3-4 minutes I started sweating so badly that my flute was slipping from my lips and often no sound was coming at all. That wasn’t enough, so god knows why, but after 7 -8 minutes I suddenly turned my back to the Tabla player – a very dear friend of mine Ajay and went completely away from the microphone. Now no one could hear anything from my flute at all. I just somehow played the rest of the given time and got up walked off the stage while the audience was once again shouting and screaming. They would cheer up anything from their own college. Of course there were folks from other colleges too, but perhaps they were booing.
I stood 4th in the competition …. Because there were only 4 competitors.
Soon after this episode I got lucky and I met Pandit Ajit Soman a great flautist in Pune. I started learning from him. He was a genius teacher and I became so much better within just 5-6 months that I even started playing on semi-professional stages out in the city. It was some kind of mutation I believe.
On this background one day I was sitting in the canteen playing flute. Suddenly a senior – Rahul came and snatched me away in a very ruling way. I didn’t know why he was taking me away, but I went with him. Didn’t have many options, did I? Fergusson has acres of campus with a big hill, a canal passing through, two huge grounds and many buildings dotted amongst innumerable enormous trees on it. Rahul, followed by confused I, walked to a faraway, dilapidated old building on the campus. It was quite separated from the rest of the buildings. Neglected too.
There on the steps sat some of his friends. They had long hair and were wearing some wacky T shirts with some skulls printed on them. They were smoking too. One of them also had two funny little sticks in his hands which he kept turning round and round in some expert fashion. Rahul excitedly announced “I have found us a cat – Bossss ! We are going to win this year. You just listen to this guy Man, he is a monster !” Because the sentences were amply dotted with different variations of ‘F’ words; they had become thrice long.
‘What! I am not a monster’ , I thought !
A quick peeped in the room which revealed the presence of a couple of guitars and a drum kit. Ah! So this was the college Rock Band then, I was slightly at ease. Mind you, this was way before mobiles or internet. So the life was quite different then. [We actually sent handwritten notes hidden in books ] I had never ever seen a rock band before. Not even in a photograph. I was a simple guy coming from an orthodox Marathi family, listening to film songs and classical music. Last year Insynch was so disastrous for me, that I simply had stayed at home the rest of it.
Rahul gave me a tape. Said “Here, Take this. Listen to this song.” He beamed at me” There is some crazy shit flute there. You have to play that. And you better play it well… Otherwise…” He just left his sentence in half…
I went home and put the tape on. It was some amazing music I had never heard. The song was Locomotive Breath by Jethro Tull. Some wicked flute playing was there. It took 4 to 5 days to figure out what he had played and almost another 20 days to play it ! It was really insane. Once I got it right, I went back and caught Rahul in the canteen. Canteen was the real activity centre. Everything happened there.
“Rahul”, I said, “I think I am ready with the piece”. “Not here, let’s go out” He said. We just walked around the canteen. “Play it”, he ordered. I played the piece for him. Before even I finished that complicated piece he let out a screaming scream! Rahul went totally berserk. He started dancing and shouting and running around everywhere. After 5 minutes of his native dance, once again he took me to his friends and they all heard it from me. They had similar reaction, but additionally they shot inside that broken down room and picked up their guitars and started playing while screaming in extreme loud volume. It was quite fascinating as well as shocking for me that time. I was sternly warned not to say a word to anyone about it.
Couple of months later came the Insynch. This year I was much more confident. I had a real Guru after all. I participated in 3-4 different music events. Competitions of Indian Classical, Hindi Film, Instrumental music and Rock with this Band. The very first day of Insynch was this Rock competition. Rahul had taken lots of special efforts on me. I was way too junior to him and to other band members too. They had to teach me everything. How to go on stage, how to take out the flute and how to wave my hands after I finish playing – the Goat Skull and all those things! We were well rehearsed, At least I thought so. They kept telling me inspirational stories of Pink Floyd and Deep Purple too!
The D-day came. There were 6 bands competing in the finals. I didn’t play in the elimination rounds as it was decided to keep me as a secret and a surprise. We were to play 5th in the sequence and my song was 6th in our list. Every group had 45 minutes for the performance.
Other colleges, especially BMCC and Wadia had some phenomenal guitarists, and BJ had a couple of fantastic vocalists. Fergusson too had a genius vocalist Vrushali. To tell you the level and devotion of the guys participating in Insynch; about 30 of them competitors are professionally active today as composers, lyricists, comperes, instrumentalists, Sound designers and such. Some future bollywood actors and actresses too participated in the mono act or such events. All in all it was the best cultural era for us.
Also, that made the competitions very, very tough to win.
Behind the high elevated stage, we all sat listening to the other bands keenly and passing some comments. Some were smoking. Also so many girl friends of the seniors were there. They were making me a bit nervous, but some of them were quite eye catchers and whatever. And then they were wearing quite different clothes than normal. Definitely a bad distraction for the music I thought. I was wearing a huge blue coloured Mexican hat. A shawl to look like a poncho, also had a toy gun on my back and the pants were shabbily folded. It was a part of my dress code that day.
In front of the big stage, there must be easily about 10,000 guys and girls in the audience. All screaming and cheering to their own college rock bands. Some thunderous LOUD sound system was blasting the music and it was just incredible. Simply out of this world experience! Adrenaline was at its highest. Certain amount of tension was building up.
Then we got our turn on stage. Song after song our band played the audience went on louder and even louder than ever. It was going all very well – as planned. As my song and my part came, I just jumped on the stage and the powerful stage lights straight went straight into my eyes blinding me. There was so much smoke from the smoke machines on stage, you couldn’t see things clearly. There were cables running from guitars and amplifiers and you had to avoid them while jumping around on the stage. I found my microphone, just closed eyes and played my part. Did all what I was taught and jumped out. I didn’t really understand what happened and what I played. I was too zapped by the lights and sound and the ocean of excited faces looking at us.
We finished and all were happy with our and my performance. Our rehearsals were done in quite secretively, so most friends too didn’t know I was playing and they were stunned. They were flocking to see us behind the stage and it was all highly exhilarating. Somehow the funnily dressed girls were attractive and inviting and weren’t so much distraction after all! Last band was yet to perform and the results would be announced. We waited and waited for the judges to announce the results.
Finally the time had come everybody was waiting for. We were all ears. After the best Vocalist and best drummer etc prizes, just before the last prize to be declared – the Best Rock Band Prize, it was the turn of The Best Instrumentalist prize. Guitarists always steal the show of a rock concert. We didn’t have any hopes for our guy as we all knew there were far superior guitarists in other bands. But we were curious to know who won it. And there was the announcement – The Prize for The Best instrumentalist goes to……. A long pause… Milind Date of Fergusson. I had won the Best Instrumentalist Prize. UNBELIEVABLE !!! Something I had never ever dreamt it in my life had happened. Rahul’s gamble had paid off.
There were 6 rock bands in the finals; all guitarists were there on stage playing all those shredding guitars for 45 minutes each and I had played in just one song. Boy ! Was I happy! It was a new life for me. The band lifted me on their shoulders and ran around everywhere. At the end they simply dropped me on the grounds and I went around jumping , dancing and hugging all my friends. The happiest moment in my life was that. It was pure ecstasy! That night campus celebrations went on till early morning and I never went home … and the next four night as well. In the coming four days of Insynch I won all the competitions I competed in. And since then I have never lost a competition in my life!
Eventually I would learn from Pandit Ajit Soman for another year before the Legend Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia would accept me as a student. Incidentally, in my last 3 decades with Guruji I have never seen or even heard the name of the first bogus student of Hariji ! –
The guy who told me I would never be able to play flute in my life was a total fraud !!
Milind Date with some of his fans in his earlier days.
Milind Date is a world renowned Bansuri player and composer from India. He has performed more than 3000 performances all across the world. He has worked with some of the greatest musicians from India and abroad. Milind has also composed music for many albums, films and documentaries. Besides his music, Milind is also known for his photography and writing. Over the period of a decade, hundreds of his articles and interviews have been published in publications like Times of India, Indian Express and several others. He has won several photography competitions as well.
More information about Milind can be found at –