Tribute Blending the classical with the popular, Pandit Ravi Shankar was never ready to settle for the stereotyped role of the greying doyen
When one met Pandit Ravi Shankar for the first time in 2002, at the launch of his biography by daughter Anoushka Shankar (“Bapi... the Love of My Life...” published by Roli Books), the maestro was already 82-years-old. Used to younger artistes bending at his feet, he blessed all with a gentle smile, but a characteristic twinkle in the eyes — and little asides that could not be missed — showed he was not ready to settle into the stereotyped role of the greying doyen.
Life in the starry lanes of celebrity since boyhood may have shaped his outlook, but he remained warm, candid and unaffected. Meeting him along with wife Sukanya Shankar and granddaughter Kaveri for a dinner engagement —featured in the “Table for Two” series of The Hindu MetroPlus — in February 2003, one was regaled for hours as he freely gave of his time. He talked of his early days in the U.S., discovering that meals were available from vending machines and all drugstores had food counters.
Those were the days he had been revered as an exotic icon of Indian spiritual music by the Flower Children generation. When he performed in New York’s Central Park, one recalled, hundreds witnessed the green lungs of a crime hardened city fill up with beauty. It was not just his breathtaking music but the way he introduced a little known art to the uninitiated that helped him enter listeners’ hearts. He would explain, drawing giggles, that when he and the other artistes on stage shook their heads, “We are not disagreeing with each other. We are enjoying the music.”
Candid as always, over dinner that evening he laughed about his habit of walking out of a restaurant with the napkin still attached to his shirt. Later, this candid nature revealed itself in a more serious way when, during an interview for the “Family Pride” series of MetroPlus (February 2005), he admitted that he had not been attached in the usual way to his biological family till late in life. He had always felt attached to his disciples, though, and was more drawn to them the more talented they were, though he had not seen his immediate family in the same way till he reached his ’70s.
His reflections and recollections epitomised, in a sense, the dichotomies in the Indian classical arts, capable of carrying the practitioner to heights of spiritual detachment as well as to lengths of sensory experience. Recalling here in MetroPlus moments with the maestro who was both myth and legend…
He was such a legend, so mythological in our minds
Seth Blumberg, Jazzmin