Carrying a bagful of flutes on one shoulder and guitar on the other, Guitar Rao can be mistaken for one of the many flute peddlers who make cityscapes more interesting than they really are. But Rao isn’t selling. At least not wares.
Like pied pipers of lore, the 58-year-old travels from city to city to look for “people who would love to learn music”. He starts by teaching the basics and gradually, teaches 10 songs. And, by the end of the course, he gives his student a flute and asks him or her to pass on the lesson. “I insist that they teach at least one more person that will be my guru dakshina,” says Rao.
Rao and his family are based out of Andhra Pradesh. Though he roams around different cities, his wife and a daughter live in a village near Hyderabad. And every month Rao sends some money back home that he earns by selling flutes.
S Venkatesh Rao, a civil engineer by profession, got the moniker of Guitar Rao after he embarked on this unique journey. “People call me that because when I left the job I got Rs 2 lakh PF amount, I bought 100 guitars and distributed for Re 1 because they said they will teach others and since they people started calling me Guitar Rao,” explained Rao.
Since his aim is to spread music and make it affordable to people, he gives a lesson at just Re 1.
“There must be many people who want to learn music, but due to finance or time issues, they don’t. I want to teach music to as many people as possible,” he said.
He doesn’t want any studio or a place to teach music. He believes that you can learn music anywhere. And with not planning to open any studio, he feels music should be everywhere near to the public.
“I do not have any studio setup to teach; I teach wherever I find students,” he shares. Guitar Rao mentions that there is always someone or the other who wants to learn music so “I teach anyone and everyone”.
“Even kids aged 7 and people aged above 80 have learnt from me and I am very happy to teach them,” he adds.
When in Delhi Guitar Rao’s stays at Andhra Bhavan and eats just once a day. The meal is provided by the Bhavan authorities.
Around 5 years back, he left his home near Hyderabad, wearing “just slippers”. Today, he roams around barefoot. But how does he manage his travel expenses? “I never buys tickets instead when a ticket checker asks me for a ticket, I simply offers to barter a journey with a flute,” says Rao.
If you want a lesson in music (and love) from Rao, do drop by at Andhra Bhavan in Delhi after 6 pm or catch him at India Gate early morning.