Before she fell in love with India, Saskia Rao-de Haas fell for the country’s classical music. In 1994, she came from the Netherlands with her beloved cello, to train under the renowned flautist Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. From inventing the Indian cello to meeting the love of her life, this Dutch musician has crossed many milestones in the country that she now calls home. By Adila Matra
Tell us about your first visit to India.
I first came to India in 1994 for its music. I had chanced upon Indian classical music in the Netherlands, and felt an instant connection. There was an Indian classical music department at one of the best music academies in my country, The Rotterdam Conservatory, which was headed by the music maestro Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia. I began training there to prepare for my journey to India. During my first year in India, I trained with professor Sumati Mutatkar.
What were your first impressions of India?
An overload of senses—sound, colour, and smell. The appalling experiences here are quickly alternated with the most beautiful. I also found it really interesting that the most erudite and the illiterate, the biggest idealists and the crassest, the richest and the poores —all live together.
What inspired you to invent the Indian cello?
While I was learning Indian music, my guru used to sit on the floor and I used to sit in a chair. I felt that this seating arrangement did not reflect the guru-shishya (student) equation. I tried sitting on the floor with my cello, but it was too huge to handle. After 10 years of creating five different cellos with luthier Eduard van Tongeren, I landed on the present form of Indian cello in 2005, which can be played while being seated on the floor.
What are your travel essentials while going around the country?
My cello, saris for my concerts, other musical equipments, and sportswear for the hotel gym. It’s always good to have a mixed wardrobe while travelling in India.
What made you make India home?
Two of the most precious things in my life—love and music. I got married to musician Shubhendra Rao in 2001, and we became a trio in 2004 when our son Ishaan was born. Today, all three of us perform together.
What are your favourite Indian dishes?
The traditional dishes are my favourite ones. I love Rajasthani dal baati churma, traditional Maharashtrian thali and Amritsari kulcha.
Which is your favourite city in India and why?
Delhi. Yes, the pollution is dreadful and there is chaos. But there are so many beautiful places to discover. Even after living here for years, I still discover historic places.
What is your advice to foreign travellers visiting India?
Go with the flow and take your own time to experience this beautiful country.