On a chilly winter morning in Frankfurt last Friday (Dec. 7), I boarded a taxi to the airport. A little while into the drive, the driver asked me if I was an Indian and I said yes. Excited, he told me he had lived in India for three years and had a great fascination for the country. He said he was an Afghan who had moved to Germany. “Unlike many Afghans who are mad about Indian cinema, I am mad about playing the sitar … I play it after my long day’s work,” he said with pride. “Do you know Pandit Ravi Shankar?” I asked. He answered instantaneously, “Who doesn’t know him, janaab!” That was Ravi Shankar — a man who transcended borders and made the whole world his home for music.
Ravi Shankar proved beyond doubt that music, eastern or western, is divine and it knows no region or religion. W.B. Yeats dreamt of poetry replacing religion but Ravi Shankar achieved it with his music. The nation owes a lot to Ravi Shankar and his brother Uday for bringing international appreciation and approbation to our traditional dance and music.
M. Somasekhar Prasad,
India will henceforth be without its best ambassador, and the world of music bereft of a master of the seven notes. Ravi Shankar’s legacy lives on in many ways in the world music that took shape from his experiments and in his illustrious list of students. His melodies will remain intrinsic to the Indian imagination as he set the tune for saare jahaan se acchha.
Ravi Shankar was the first to showcase the brilliance of classical Hindustani music to the western audience. For half-a-century, he moved about the western world as the cultural ambassador of India, enthralling thousands by the sheer magic of his sitar. He never wavered from the purity of classical music. He did not set great score by name and fame though they came to him in copious measure.
I was fortunate to be the medical attendant of the great maestro in 1996, when he was in Chennai for an album he recorded with George Harrison. He had a minor ailment and was particular that I should see him every day. When I asked him to take complete rest, he asked: “Can I practise on the sitar?” Being naive, I asked him whether it was necessary for a legend like him to do that. He said: “Without six hours of practice every day, I am nobody,” adding “the first 30 minutes to one hour of a concert always make me jittery ...”
I came home and wondered at the humility of the mighty legend and his devotion to his great art, while most people take everything for granted.
The tributes paid by The Hindu (Dec. 13) brought out the maestro’s unique style and admiration. Playing an instrument is one thing; breathing life and soul into it is another. Panditji’s music will remain etched in our minds forever.
Lt. Col. (retd.) R.V.S. Mani,
It is to Ravi Shankar’s credit that he revived the sitar when the interest of the younger generation in Indian classical music was waning. He introduced classical music to the western audience and invented a genre called ‘world’ or ‘fusion’ music, which kept Hindustani classical alive at a time when the young were increasingly enamoured of everything ‘western.’ Panditji’s collaborations with artists as diverse as Yehudi Menuhin and George Harrison provided a transition to the more disciplined forms of the genre. He weaved magic on the sitar and will be remembered as one of the greatest musicians ever.