His sitar is silent

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Tributes abound for the late sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, writes SHERYL DIXIT AND IANS

Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, described by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as a “national treasure”, who bridged the gap between the east and the west in the world of music died on December 11 in a US hospital. He was 92.

The end came just a few days after a heart valve replacement surgery. He had been admitted to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, San Diego, near his home after he complained of breathing difficulties.

Though the surgery was successful, recovery proved too difficult for the renowned musician. His wife Sukanya Rajan and daughter Anoushka were by his side when the end came.

“Ravi Shankar’s health has been fragile for the past several years, and he underwent surgery on December 6 that could have potentially given him a new lease of life,” claimed a statement from the family. “Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the surgeons and doctors, his body was not able to withstand the strain of the surgery.”

Memories from the media

Tributes for the sitar maestro poured in as the world learned of his demise. Paying tribute to the maestro, Time magazine recalled that in 1968, its reviewer had written “that the sheen of celebrity that the musician’s association with The Beatles had created was starting to fade. In hindsight, that assessment is debatable”.

“More than forty years later, Ravi Shankar is still one of the most powerful and lasting influences in music today.”
The influential New York Times, in a front page story, said the Indian sitarist and composer’s “collaborations with Western classical musicians as well as rock stars helped foster a worldwide appreciation of India’s traditional music”.

“Shankar, a soft-spoken, eloquent man whose performance style embodied a virtuosity that transcended musical languages was trained in both eastern and western musical traditions,” it said.

“Although Western audiences were often mystified by the odd sounds and shapes of the instruments when he began touring in Europe and the United States in the early 1950s, Mr Shankar and his ensemble gradually built a large following for Indian music,” the Times said.

The Washington Post said the Grammy Award-winning Indian sitar virtuoso had become “the world’s leading representative of South Asian music, exerted a major influence on popular music in the 1960s.”

“One reason Mr Shankar’s music had such influence over audiences and musicians was the otherworldly quality of its tones and rhythms; the sitar produces more tones than a guitar and is based on a different theory of music,” it said.

“His music transcended trends and cultural barriers,” CNN said. “The legendary sitar player’s classical career outlived his counterculture fame, but he continued to meld East with West and composed concertos, which harmonized his sitar with orchestras.”

Talented and humble

Artistes across the Indian musical scene also mourned the loss of a great musician.

Indian writer-lyricist Gulzar, who worked with Pandit Ravi Shankar for 1979 movie Meera, remembers the late sitar maestro as an honest person who was young at heart. “I volunteered to travel with him (on his tour), so we could get the music for Meera ready. Panditji was young at heart and had boundless energy. He was honest and very sincere. These qualities remained with him till the end,” recalled Gulzar.

Saddened sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan recalled that he fondly called the late Pandit Ravi Shankar ‘Dada‘, an elder brother.

“It is surreal for me to believe that Pandit Ravi Shankar, whom I called ‘dada‘, is no more. His passing away marks the end of an era that was truly magical,” said the sarod maestro. “If the sitar is today regarded so highly, it is because of Pandit Ravi Shankar. His name is synonymous with the sitar,” he said. “Dada possessed all the qualities of a great artiste, including humility and grace,” he added.

Amjad Ali Khan credits Ravi Shankar’s wife Sukanya for his success and is confident that their daughter Anoushka will take the legacy forward.
“The future of sitar is ensured. The tradition of classical music of Miyan Tansen and Swami Haridas will continue. But masters like Pandit Ravi Shankar would never be born again. Khuda kare unki punjee ko bachche hifaazat se rakhen (May God keep the legacy safe and secure),” he said.

Bhajan singer Anup Jalota remembered the late Pandit Ravi Shankar as the person instrumental in giving India and the sitar, international fame.

“Pandit Ravi Shankarji was the godfather of classical music. I believe he did more than he could, he made the sitar and India famous across the globe. We salute him and pray that the respect he got in this world, the same he gets in the other world also,” added the 59-year old musician.

Kathak maestro Pandit Birju Maharaj said that he knew Ravi Shankar since he was 12-14 years old. “He loved me a lot. I’m very unhappy. I hope his daughter Anoushka, who is a sitarist herself, will carry forward his legacy. And I pray to God that Panditji will one day take birth again and strum the sitar,” he said.

Bharatanatyam danseuse Geeta Chandran said Ravi Shankar had paved the way for musicians to explore classical music in all its forms. “At his time, there was a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude among Indian musicians vis-a-vis their own music. It was Panditji who experimented with many musicians, both Indian and foreign, and went on to take Indian classical music out of its box and into the wide world,” she said.

Odissi danseuse Madhavi Mudgal knew Ravi Shankar since her childhood and recalled that he had a charming and attractive personality and a marvellous memory. “You could contact him 25 years after meeting him and he would remember you,” she stated.

Leela Samson, chairperson of Sangeet Natak Akademi, said that in the 1950s and ’60s, Ravi Shankar conquered the world with his music, performing in Europe and the US, educating audiences, and collaborating with outstanding musicians in the West.

“These years opened out India’s music to the world as no other epoch before or since, and paved the way for exchanges in the field that continue to flourish today,” she said.

Ram Rehman, spokesperson for human rights and culture organisation SAHMAT said, “Ravi Shankar was a shining example of India’s composite culture and was a vocal critic of groups who were seeking to divide and define us on communal lines.”

Recognition of genius

Regardless of his health, Ravi Shankar gave his final public performance on November 4 at Long Beach, California, performing with Anoushka, that was billed as a celebration of his tenth decade of creating music.

And just a day after his death, Pandit Ravi Shankar was named a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award recipient. The sitar maestro will be honoured along with six other artists at an invitation-only ceremony in Los Angeles just a day before the 55th annual Grammy Awards are telecast live in early February 2013.

Ravi Shankar was also recently named as one of the Grammy nominees for Best World Music Album. It is a category in which Anoushka, a sitar virtuoso in her own right was also nominated, marking what appears to be the first time that a father and daughter’s albums would compete for the same honour at the Grammys.
Ravi Shankar had a need to constantly move forward and create, an urge that was present even in the final years of his life. His album ‘The Living Room Sessions, Part 1’ received the Grammy nomination, news of which reached Shankar the night prior to his surgery.

In a review of the record, Songlines magazine stated that the master has lost “absolutely nothing in the way of musical virtuosity, technical brilliance and the kind of high-energy passion that belongs in concert performances.”

Even American rock band Guns ‘N’ Roses performing in India dedicated their concert in Mumbai to the sitar maestro, out of respect for his contribution to the world of music.

The curtain falls

Ravi Shankar maintained residences both in India and the United States. He is survived by his wife Sukanya; daughter Norah Jones; daughter Anoushka Shankar Wright and husband Joe Wright; 3 grandchildren, and 4 great-grandchildren. He also had a son, Shubhendra Shankar, from his first wife Annapurna Devi. Shubhendra died in 1992.

Ravi Shankar and Anoushka visited down under in the spring of 2010, aptly called the ‘Farewell to Australia’ tour, which was received with tremendous accolades.

Pandit Ravi Shankar lived life to the fullest, in creativity and harmony, excelling at his music and bringing recognition, familiarity and acceptance to Indian classical music across the globe. The world will miss a true genius and international icon.

Rest in peace, Pandit Ravi Shankar.

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