Just like Akbar the Great, the only phrase that comes to mind when I think of him is Ravi Shankar the Great. What a world class artist, and what a great ambassador for India he has been!
His life-long artistic journey has been arduous yet what heights he reached in music! His mastery over the sitar and Hindustani music under the guidance of Ustad Allaudin Khan laid the strong foundation for the sky-scraper that he built with his involvement and creative work through performances world-wide, his scores for cinema, and his orchestral compositions first in India and later with international classical artists such as Yehudi Menuhin and Andre Previn.
Pt. Ravi Shankar was a friend of my family; he knew every one of us so well that whenever I met him in some part of the world, he would always enquire about all of them with care and affection. He had fond memories of our home in Santhome, my sister Saroja, herself a Hindustani musician who invited him to our home in 1953, and my mother Alamelu Viswanathan’s hospitality.
Everybody has a Raviji story or stories because he touched people’s lives in extraordinary ways. I had the advantage of a ring-side view of his former Beatle George Harrison years, sitting in on rehearsals, spending weekends in Henley where a big Indian contingent was preparing for a U.S. tour. His Albert Hall concert that year (1973/74) was truly a unique experience, as were many of his concerts which I heard in various platforms -- from Rasika Ranjani Sabha, Mylapore, to the Royal Festival Hall in London.
But especially dear to me was a tour where I shared an evening, performing for the first hour of a concert tour of the Reunion Island for the Festival of the Indian Ocean. Raviji kept us in thrall not only with his music but with wit, humour and gourmet discernment of a largely French menu!
With a twinkle in his eye, his white beard making him look like a sage, Raviji received me with warmth along with Sukanya in their Docklands holiday home in London, this past summer. Over a leisurely lunch, we chatted about all the people he knew in Chennai, and enjoyed seeing lovely photographs of his grandchild (Anoushka’s baby). Raviji enjoyed playing in Chennai, and befriended many here. The dynamic T.T. Vasu responded to our suggestion and invited him to receive the Music Academy’s Platinum Medal from President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, along with other great musicians of South India. A true Bharat Ratna, he shone like a jewel on the crown of Indian music. One of a kind, his music will be immortal. And for those who knew him….. What a pleasure!