The maestro’s magic

I started getting to know the man better when he was in his seventies. I have rarely met an older person who is so keyed in to what is being said. Telling him a story was a pleasure. Hearing one from him was even more fun because he told you that story with a rare sense of involvement and passion. Almost always, when he saw, read or heard something interesting, his eyes sparkled. I still remember a concert in Mumbai's Shanmukhananda Hall, where I was accompanying him. His health was not very good that day and he was on heavy medication. So after playing the alaap for three minutes, he set his sitar down and closed his eyes. In a hall so silent you could hear a pin drop, everybody looked on with bated breath. Some minutes later, he opened his eyes. There was a strange sparkle in them. He picked up the instrument and played one of the best concerts of his life. Tears rolled down my cheeks — and I am not an overtly emotional man. It was as if he had summoned all his spiritual energies and channelled them into one concert. There was a godly presence in the hall that day. That moment inspired in me the deepest respect for him. One of my tours in 1995 was with him in Japan. In the past, I had struggled, without success, with the raw elements of Japanese cuisine. As Raviji and I sat on the traditional Japanese dining table, with a host of dignitaries around us, he sensed my discomfort. He said something in my ear that night that has changed a lot of things in my life. He said, "Bickram, you have been a Bengali boy all your life. It is up to you to decide if you wish to continue being a Bengali all your life. Or if you wish to change that by deciding to take this opportunity to become Japanese for a week. If you do the latter, I guarantee, your life would be richer." Something snapped in me that night, and I took a slice of squid and put it in my mouth.

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