Identity Crisis

This week, Fox News was hard-selling the Art of Dying. On Thursday, for a brief interval, it almost sent off the wrong Ravi Shankar to the great gig in the sky. Despite the double-barreled insurance conferred by the Sri Sri honorific, they ran a picture of the black-bearded guru instead of the white-bearded master musician.

I have to take out some insurance here, though. I did not see Fox's footage myself. They apparently pulled it double-quick after a small tsunami of protest hit Twitter. Not sure what set it off, the bizarre image switch or the manner in which Pandit Ravi Shankar had been identified, as "the Beatles' sitarist." He did not deserve that crabby little appellation.

MTV similarly tried to bump off Ravi Shankar, the guru, in an online tribute to the Pandit but hey, they're a music channel. They're capable of anything. But mercifully, they referred to Pandit Ravi Shankar as a "Beatles influence", which is a lot more accurate than Fox's reading.

The tributes to Ravi Shankar suggested that he had single-handedly brought Indian classical music to Western audiences. That's problematic, suggesting that the Carnatic tradition is unimportant, the success of Shakti and AR Rahman notwithstanding. Besides, it would be fairer to say that he was the most successful among a lot of performers who played in the West at the time. His own accompanist Alla Rakha made a considerable impression on US percussionists and elevated the tabla to the level of a solo instrument.

But Western media did not seem to be very aware of the man who took Indian music out there. Almost all channels clutched at the Beatles lifeline, though the Fab Four connection was only a small but crucial segment in a long career. In India, the recordings with Yehudi Menuhin had always seemed more interesting than stories of Monterey and Woodstock. In the coverage overseas, there was little appreciation of Ravi Shankar as a performer and surprisingly, no mention of his contribution to film music ó the cinema of Satyajit Ray and Sir Richard Attenborough. The BBC did rather well, though, dwelling on the first phase of Shankar's career overseas, as a teenager in Paris with Uday Shankar's troupe, when his family got to know Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and classical guitarist Andres Segovia. Little details that even Ravi Shankar's Indian fans may not know of.

... contd.

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