It was just after Pt. Ravi Shankar and Anoushka’s memorable concert for Banyan in Chennai, in March 2008. I stood along with countless fans hoping to meet the maestro backstage. A hapless security guard was having a very hard time holding us back.
Finally, I think my walking stick and white hair helped clear a path for me. That, and the fact that I managed to make eye-contact with his wife Sukanya. “I’m a really old pal of your husband’s,” I said. I was led right in.
“Good God, it’s PVK!” Ravi Shankar’s spirited welcome for me showed no signs of exhaustion even after the 2-hour concert. And amidst chuckles all around us, we tried settling a long standing argument: who was the older of the two, between us? (This was important to determine who touched whose feet!). “I’m definitely the elder here, I was born in April 1921,” I declared. “Aha! Beat you by a year, young man! I was born in April 1920,” the then 88 year-old laughed back at me.
We could be excused our irreverent banter; our association went back to our days in All India Radio (AIR), when Ravi Shankar was director of AIR’s National Orchestra and I was in the external services division. used to have this curious habit then of incessantly drumming my fingers on my table. My colleague Ravi Shankar, the incorrigible punster, couldn’t resist this wisecrack: “If you see a chap playing the ‘table-a’ on his desk all day, that would be PVK!”
We kept in touch, and I was privileged to sit in sometimes on his rigorous practice sessions in Delhi’s Pataudi House hostel; we were allowed to sit in strict silence and witness the master hone his craft. I recall a wonderful incident here. I was once invited to Pataudi House as the famous dancer Balasaraswati and poet Harin Chattopadhyay were visiting. I arrived, along with my eager, music-loving nieces.
Now, Ravi Shankar spoke Hindi and English; Balasaraswati spoke Tamil. Yet language was no issue: they had the most animated, engaging conversation together.
Ravi Shankar asked many questions in English, the great dancer readily replied — entirely with Bharatanatyam mudras and facial expressions! We thoroughly enjoyed ‘listening in’ on this dialogue, just as we did the quick repartee between Chattopadhyay and Ravi Shankar, both famous for their ready puns.
When I moved on from AIR to launch television in India, our paths crossed again. While NID designed the Doordarshan logo, I had to recommend who would create Doordarshan’ signature tune. My choice was obvious. (Recall that iconic tune — you’ll recognise it’s a wonderful improvisation of a well known national song.)
Coming back to our last, momentous meeting in Chennai — we shook hands, we hugged, we hoped to meet again somewhere someday, two ‘old boys’ heading happily into our 90s.
My daughter-in-law still regrets the security guard’s confiscation of her camera as she doesn’t have a photograph of our momentous meeting. But I do have a wonderfully clear image in my mind still, of the last time I met my fun-loving friend and musical genius, Ravi Shankar.
(P.V. Krishnamoorthy, 91, began his career with AIR and was the first director-general of Doordarshan)
Keywords: Ravi Shankar