Whichever raga he chose, Ustad Vilayat Khan would create newness within the same raga. So there was purity and versatility. That’s why his music was not just appealing to only the purists and older generation, it appealed to even those who didn't understand classical music.
Pandit Ravi Shankar would infuse; I don't like the word fusion because that takes away from the artist. There are other fusion artists who don’t do it well. But I wouldn’t call Pandit Ravi Shankar’s music fusion because he did great stuff — different ragas with each other and created variety.
It doesn't make anybody a lesser or a greater artist. It is just that they approached music differently.
Their equation as musicians
Both respected one another, but both agreed to disagree. If one artiste missed the aspect of popularity, the other missed the aspect of respectability within purity. But their contribution to the world of music was the same. We lost Ustad Vilayat Khan in 2004 and now we are dealing with the loss of another huge, huge legend.
Ustad Vilayat Khan’s music changed the style of Hindustani classical music, be it whatever instrument or vocal style, he changed the structure of a performance on stage and he changed the structure of khayal singing. Now here is another artiste, the great, great Pandit Ravi Shankar ji, who held on to his style of sitar playing with the help of his pleasing character and vision. He took India’s music to the farthest corners of the world.
Ustad Vilayat Khan would say this about him both admiringly and sympathetically, “Robu da has popularised India’s music all over the world at the cost of his music.”
They shared a wonderful camaraderie. They would joke and laugh like crazy. Once when Pandit ji came to perform at the Doon School in Dehradun, he rung up — I was my father’s right hand man — and said that he was here and would like to come over to our house in and see abba. So we had a fun-filled evening.
They realised and knew each other’s role in the world of music. It didn’t bother them. What bothered them was when people compared them and tried to pitch one against the other. It irked them. Then they had to explain and clarify that they had different styles. And of course, there were different camps — one was Ustad Vilayat Khan camp and there was Pandit Ravi Shankar camp, because both had their fans and loyalists. It is wrong for us to deny that.
There were organisations which would try to pitch one on top of another. So there were organisations which would have more performances of Ustad Vilayat Khan and then there were some which wanted more of Pandit Ravi Shankar. But they didn’t like this at all.