‘I found I was the only one who could explain our music’
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Excerpts from an interview with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta on NDTV's Walk The Talk, telecast in December 2009
You had a brilliant guru in Baba Allauddin Khan.
He was more of a father to me actually and his blessings and whatever training he gave are so unique that I could bring it out, not only in India, but all over the world... He had a violent temper. But I hold the record of being the only one who has not been beaten by him... Ali Akbar Khan (Allauddin Khan's son) ko ped se baandhkar teen teen din tak maara...
Your training and then your rediscovery of the West...
Exactly. I started from 1954 in Soviet Russia. That time I went with the group that Mrs Gandhi sent. And that was Eastern Europe only. But that gave me the impetus, or rather I found out that I was the only one who could speak, mind you, and explain our music, give a comparative idea of Western and Indian music etc. So from 1956 onwards I started going myself and touring.
You became an ambassador not just for Indian music but also for India and Indian culture, or what is today called 'soft power'.
I really was lucky because my childhood experience with my brother, having toured all over the world, knowing the Western mind, their attitude or their lack of understanding of Indian music, I had known all that and I could explain it to them immediately. I had this advantage over all these musicians at that time... I grew up so fast because I was always with elderly people, travelling a lot. I went at the age of 12 to America. By boat at that time. And in the morning, through the fog, I saw the new Empire State Building and all the other skyscrapers. It was an experience that I will never forget... Being very young, you adapt quickly. So I was all the time learning, listening to jazz, western classical.