I join the world music lovers in mourning the passing of Bharata Ratna Pt. Ravi Shankar and offer condolences to his family. My world now doesn’t sound the same without Ravi Shankar’s sitar.
I attended my first Ravi Shankar concert in Bangalore in 1960 at the P.C. Town Hall. I still remember that late evening concert where the tabla master Kishan Maharaj stole the show by his rapport with the audience. It did not seem to bother Ravi Shankar. My next concert was at the Oklahoma State University in 1964, a major campus event. As newly arrived foreign students a few of my friends and I were thrilled to meet Ravi Shankar and socialize with him after the concert in one of our apartments. I narrated my Bangalore concert experience and Ravi Shankar expressed his admiration for the South Indian audience and music critics. This first meeting helped me recognize his greatness and humility.
Waiting to meet Prime Minister Indira Gandhi at Century Plaza in L.A/Beverley Hills. From L to R: Rajamani Narasimhan, President Kannada Cultural Association S.C, Inder Singh, GOPIO, G.S.Satya, San Jose, CA, Vijay Amritraj, Tennis Star, Persis Khambhatta, Film Star, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Musician, Shubho Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s son and Ashwattha Rao, President, Kannada Koota, N.C
Growing up as a Kannadiga, being exposed to both Karnatik and Hindustani music, enabled me to start organizations to promote both musical traditions in California in the 80s. In 1982, Ravi Shankar personally blessed the starting of Basant Bahar, the leading Hindustani music association in Silicon Valley. Also in 1982 I had the thrill of joining Ravi Shankar and a small group of famous Indo-Americans in felicitating the late great Indira Gandhi in Los Angeles. In 1985 Ravi Shankar laid the foundation for the Cultural Center at our Shiva Vishnu Temple, Livermore, one of the leading temples in the United States. Ravi Shankar also gave a benefit concert for our temple. Over the past five decades I have been lucky to hear his major concerts in California. Ravi Shankar, by popularizing Indian classical music abroad, made all N.R.I.’s prouder of their heritage. Even when he attained rock star status, collaborating with the Beatles, he was humble enough to prefer staying in the homes of my friends such as the late Jayanth Shah, Dr. Bina Erasmus and the late Sheela Shastry, instead of the five star hotels he could have chosen. This enabled our personal and memorable interactions with the great musician.
The following incident, I think, is testimony to the true Bharat Ratna that Ravi Shankar was. Around 1965 a young, upstate New York native, Robert Brown , studying World Music in Los Angeles got a Fulbright Scholarship to study hindustani music in India. Thrilled, Robert Brown sought Ravi Shankar’s advice on how to get the best of this opportunity. The late musician’s advise to the young Robert was “learn Karnatik music first and Hindustani next!” Accordingly, Robert first went to Chennai, learnt to play the mridangam, wrote his thesis on that, returned to America and pioneered the introduction of Karnatik Music and Bharata Natya, with centers of learning at Wesleyan University, CT; Berkeley, CA and San Diego, CA! In addition to organizing concert tours for our senior Karnatik artists of the 60s. He also mentored the late Jon B. Higgins, a vocalist (who earned the title Higgins Bhagavathar) and Dr. Doug Knight, Mridangist who went on to become an expert on famed bharatanatyam dancer, Balasaraswati. I knew the late Dr. Robert Brown well and have met both Jon and Doug and attended their Karnatik music concerts. We honored Dr. Brown as our Chief Guest at the 1994 Silver Jubilee celebration of our most successful and recognized Karnatik Music Association, South India Fine Arts, in Silicon Valley. Thus Pt. Ravi Shankar made invaluable contributions to Hindustani and Karnatik music, both now flourishing in the United States for which I gratefully acknowledge Ravi Shankar’s pre-eminent contributions.
They say that there is honor and dignity in remembering and respecting the past. I can literally touch and feel our musical past with all the now antique 33 RPM record albums of Ravi Shankar’s sitar, Menuhin’s violin and Allah Rakha’s tabla, in my collection. I can relive that joy every time my three year old granddaughter asks for and starts dancing to the music of East meets West. Thanks for the memories Raviji. These memories add meaning to my life. Om Shanti.