The Making of a Maestro


He was Robu to Maihar, before he became Pandit Ravi Shankar to the world. In a small town in Madhya Pradesh, a musical legacy lives on.

In Maihar, a small town in Satna district of Madhya Pradesh,the freshly-painted bungalow of Ustad Alauddin Khan stands in silence, as if forlorn, as if mourning the passing of one of its most famous students — Pandit Ravi Shankar — in San Diego last week. As we enter Medina Bhawan, named after Khan's wife, caretaker Danka Rawat greets us: "Ab toh Robu dada bhi chale gaye. (Even Robu dada has left us.) This house kept waiting for him to return one last time," says Rawat.

Maihar knew Ravi Shankar as Robu, a 14-year-old wild child from a Bengali Brahmin family, who submitted to the rigorous discipline of Baba Alauddin Khan's gurukul — long before he became a superstar of Indian classical music. Memories of the years he spent here — nearly a decade — remain in the house.

It is a much revered house in Maihar, the birthplace of the Maihar gharana, even without the history of Ravi Shankar's sojourn. Musicians of the town bow every time they pass the house, and music lovers come this far to visit it. On the verandah is the famous "takht" where Khan sat and taught, with Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Annapurna Devi, his daughter and Shankar's first wife, at his feet. It was in this house that the beenkaari baaj, a trademark of Maihar gharana, was developed by Khan. Baba, as Khan was known, ran his house with an iron hand. "(You could say) there was purdah in the house. Not just for women. Even for the students. Khaasne ke pehle sochna padta tha (You had to think before you coughed). Robu came from Paris and had a tough time adjusting. There were too many mosquitoes. It wasn't comfortable. Music is never comfortable when you learn under the guru-shishya parampara," says 81-year-old Ram Lakhan Pandey, one of the few students taught by Khan, who decided to stay on in Maihar.

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