No lifespan too long for this classical gem

Pandit Ravi Shankar during a performance—AP

Pandit Ravi Shankar during a performance—AP

His earthly sitar will never be strung to rend the air. His unique sense of humour will never lighten a grim atmosphere. Neither will his warm touch and good-natured spirit bring a smile on a dejected face. For the indefatigable world-renowned sitar genius Pandit Ravi Shankar now rests in peace at his heavenly abode.

May be, he is tuning in his instrument and doing the sound-check for a special concert up there.
Seems God needed another classical gem for His music court to prepare a beautiful evening raga for Him. So He called Panditji at the pearly gates. But for the world full of legions of fans, disciples, near and dear ones, he is surely gone too soon. As they say, for every multifaceted creative persona, no lifespan is big enough to cover his sea of phenomenal contributions, which is always in flux.
The leading musicians of the culture-capital Kolkata reminisce about the three-time Grammy awardee and a recipient of the prestigious Bharat Ratna with fond memories and interesting anecdotes. Incidentally, the current year also marks the centenary commemoration of the “Nataraj” of creative dance —late Uday Shankar — the elder brother of the deceased sitar legend.
Ace percussionist Tanmoy Bose sounded nostalgic while remembering the 13 consecutive years spent with the sitar virtuoso on his concert tours and at his place over freewheeling adda sessions. “I would say this is a personal loss for me,” he solemnly said. “Panditji was a complete musician, as his ears were always attuned to the oceanic sphere of world music and its diverse genres,” he asserts. He further added: “I first got the news from one of my pupils, and then checked the Internet, only to verify the misfortune.”
“It’s been a shock for me, as only a month ago, I happened to share the stage with his mastery at the Long Beach Arts Centre in Los Angeles. Anoushka (Panditji’s daughter and a talented sitarist herself) and myself accompanied him on that two-and-a-half hour-long show. It goes without saying that a Pandit Ravi Shankar programme will invariably spark off some mass hysteria and always be felicitated with a standing ovation, but on this particular function, he was wheeled in a chair with oxygen cylinders by his side. People in the auditorium just burst into tears,” his voice choked.
Bose had constantly accompanied the nonagenarian sitar-wizard on stage for over a decade and would even stay with him for six-seven months while on tours. “Well, he was a great combo of the occidental and oriental cultures. Since he grew up in Paris, he would fluently speak the language and unfailingly kept tabs of the traditional Bengali magazines, especially the Puja issues. Although he collaborated with an impressive line of Japanese, African and American musicians, interestingly, all his collaborators became his students later in the process. And that’s a rare commendable feat in itself,” Bose comments. “I even remember performing alongside Panditji from one stop to another, roaming around in a bus. The bus is like a house on wheels consisting of a master bedroom, drawing room, kitchen and so on. We moved from the Carnegie Hall in the New York City to The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, again from Chicago to the New Jersey Performing Arts Center — the trip was simply enchanting for me! I also had the thrilling experience of playing as an accompanist on the desert of Arizona and at a Texan bar. From the springtime in March-end to the months of June-July in Europe and again from the August-September end to November-end in North America, we would continuously stage music sessions,” he elaborates on the tight yearly itinerary that Panditji would religiously follow despite failing health in recent years.
Neither did he leave music nor did music desert him. In fact, he battled till his last breath to remain near the silken strains of his sitar that is now quietly weeping in his memory. For it is a part of his soul and identity. But before departing from this mundane boundary to the metaphysical world beyond, Panditji has gifted the world with the news of his receiving the most prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammy, which will be now bestowed posthumously upon him, come February 10, 2013.
Tabla maestro Pandit Anindyo Chatterjee notes that the sitarist extraordinaire was a “versatile artiste and his keen sense of beats and rhythm was unmatchable”. “He was also conversant with the Carnatic music, which many are not aware of. He was a linguist in his own right and scrupulously followed any given foreign language. He even created a bandish (classical composition) to be played in three different taals (beats),” he said.
Sarod exponent Pandit Tejendra Narayan Majumder vouches for Panditji’s unflinching Bengaliness and his interest in a wide range of subjects under the sky. “He was a quintessential Bengali bhadralok and nursed a palate for authentic Bengali recipes. His love for poetry, theatre and movies always trickled into his animated discussions other than music,” he reveals. Synonymous with simplicity, Panditji was ever eager to smoothen a tough composition for the benefit of his students and listeners alike. “I was really scared of the Multani raga, but after hearing Panditji play the same with effortless ease and brilliance, it became crystal-clear to me,” recollects Majumder.
Young sitar whiz Purbayan Chatterjee said: “I had the good fortune to meet him last on October 14 when he came to attend my concert in San Diego. He blessed me and asked me to ensure that I always remained true to the craft, without diluting its form and content.”
Eminent tabla player and percussionist Bickram Ghosh enthused: “We should be grateful to God that we have lived in the times of Panditji and closely witnessed his musical escapades. He is an asset to the rich heritage of Indian classical music and is a shining jewel in its crown. Back in his hey-days, he brought Indian music on the world map and continued to do so as a dutiful son of the soil till he died in harness. He was still a performing artiste and rendered his last recital in India early this year in Bengaluru.” A staunch stickler for the treasure-trove of Indian classical music, Shankar took the sitar not only to the West, but to the worldwide audience at large. “He knew that the sitar’s place is rightly under the sun and not to remain confined in one part of the world. From the year 1993 to 1998, I had the privilege to play along with him and then I chose to walk out of a purist’s classical scenario only to diversify into fusionistic percussion. He was a strict disciplinarian when it came to regular riyaaz (practice). He would treat me like his own son and advise me with his tips and suggestions on sur, taal, lai (tune, beat, rhythm). With him, even an idle chat would readily transform into an exciting taalim session, which was never a dull discourse from the word go. I’m indeed lucky to be a small part of his life and he was like family to me,” he reflects.
Of course, the sitar won’t sound the same ever, but then the show must go on and life too, goes on forever. Keeping this view in front, an “in memoriam” discussion was organised this last Sunday at the Rabindra Sarovar Lake in the heart of Kolkata, where the guiding beacon of Indian classical music was remembered with immense reverence. To pay tributes to this colossal figure in Indian music, a coterie of performing artistes had gathered on the occasion at the lawns of the lake to rekindle the everlasting memory of the music-icon and his priceless creations.

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