Ravi Shankar remembered
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I got to Philadelphia in 1961. In the first month of my academic term in September, my Canadian fellow student asked me 'Are you coming to listen to Ravi Shankar?' Wow again! A Canadian student along with an American friend was a fan of Ravi Shankar. He was just an ordinary student who was exposed to multi-cultural influences. India was exotic but not forbidden territory. That was the beginning of Ravi Shankar becoming India's best known export to the West. He had done it without compromising with his technique or his commitment to his art. Ravi Shankar was a natural agent to export India to the world. No official sponsorship, no need to sit through boring speeches by ministers extolling India's moral superiority etc.
Ravi Shankar was for the second half of the twentieth century what Swami Vivekananda was for the end of the nineteenth century for the West. He spoke of the richness of India in melodious terms and he had a captive audience.Vocal music is difficult to transmit across cultures. I cannot appreciate opera to this day but give me piano music or violin and I can sink in. Similarly it was the sitar which took India to the West rather than classical or film vocal music. Ravi Shankar had it all. He had talent, he had good looks and he had a dedication to his art which was astounding. And the Beatles!
Some day we will have a proper history of the renaissance of Indian music and art which has taken place since independence. India started with diffidence and resentment about the West. They had been rulers and they had shown contempt for our arts. It was the Americans and the Germans and the Canadians who first took to India as a source for great music and art. The patronage for classical music had come from the Maharajas and not the British rulers. The British are philistines in any case or at least were when they ruled over India. We can be grateful that Ravi Shankar gave us his best.