Pandit Ravi Shankar has just turned 90 and still feels childlike when it comes to playing on stage

A singular phenomenon in the classical music worlds of the East and West, the legendary sitarist, composer, teacher and writer Pandit Ravi Shankar will be known for his pioneering work in bringing Indian music to the West. Always ahead of his times, he has written concertos for Sitar and Orchestra, Violin-Sitar compositions for Yehudi Menuhin and himself, music for flute virtuoso Jean Pierre Rampal, music for Hosan Yamomoto master of Shakuhachi, Musimi Miyashita-Koto virtuoso and collaborated with Phillip Glass (Passages).

George Harrison produced and participated in two record albums ‘Shankar Family & Friends' and ‘Festival of India' composed by Pandit Ravi Shankar. He has composed extensively for films and ballets in India, Canada, Europe and the U.S., including Charly, Gandhi and Appu Trilogy. A honorary member of American Academy of Arts and Letters and a member of United Nations International Rostrum of composers, he has been conferred innumerable awards, including the Bharat Ratna.

Living a creative life submerged in music, Pandit ji has just turned ninety. I had an opportunity to talk to him at his Chanakyapuri residence during his last visit. What is the secret of his evergreen creativity?

“My audience! I forget my age wherever I play, whether in India or abroad. I have tried to present our music without destroying its character and ethos. Normally you take a raga and play it for one or one and a half hours, but when I started playing for the West in ‘50s, people said Indian music is too esoteric, ethnic and very long. I started a new way of presenting by giving them as much as they could take. I would explain what is a raga and its nuances. I did play aalap-jod also, but not very long. Those days there was a lot of criticism at home that I don't play pure music, but my efforts did pay off,” he said.

Fashion of fusion

On the recent fashion of fusion he said, “ “It's a controversial topic but I shall give you my own view. My guru was very traditional but he did lots of experimentation too. When my brother Uday Shankar took him abroad, his brother Timir Baran was the music director in his dance company who would use a few classical items on sarod by him during the interludes. But my guru tried the Western violin in Dartington Hall, Prague and their folk music on their folk instruments. His creativity influenced me a lot. My first opportunity came as the director of A.I.R. Vadya-Vrinda, later I did collaborations with Western musicians but the ‘fusion' word was not there. I played with symphony orchestras, but instead of jamming I depended on my own inspiration while experimenting with them.”

On the present scenario of classical music he said, “We are going through a fantastic time. The young generation is very receptive and music is spreading fast, but the guidance of a guru does matter. There is no sense learning music if you only have interest in music and not the requisite talent. The riyaaz of 14-15 hours is immaterial if you don't have the true passion and dedication. I have observed that students in West are more serious and hard working. There is no dearth of talent here too provided they take it seriously and are groomed properly. I was concerned about the grim future of classical music a few years ago, but I'm hopeful now, that it would not die.”

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