When Robuji played in our house
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Pandit Ravi Shankar strode the world of classical music like a colossus for the last half century. Gradually, as his visits abroad increased in duration, so did the recognition of his genius. His concerts with Yehudi Menuhin and his experiments with leading jazz and pop artists of the time are well documented, as are his years with George Harrison. Then, of course, came the Woodstock festival where, it is estimated, some 2.5 lakh young people attended. He spoke openly against the use of drugs and persuaded his audience that music itself would give them a "high" like nothing else could. In the 1970s, Menuhin advised him to step back from the world of popular music and preserve his image as a classical musician, though Raviji never allowed his "genre" as a classicist to waver. And so it went till the end of his days.
Nevertheless, there was another time, gentler, less hectic, perhaps more devoted to his inner world, which led to the shaping of Ravi Shankar. This spanned the period between 1940 and 1960. It was in the summer of 1941 that my parents took me on a holiday to Almora. My father enrolled for yoga classes and my mother for Manipuri dance at Uday Shankar's famed dance centre. Here, my mother, who had just begun learning the sitar, came in contact with Baba Allaudin Khan, the sarod maestro, who was the director of music at the Uday Shankar Centre. When my parents requested him to spend time with us in Delhi, he readily agreed. Time in those days could stretch to months. Baba came from Maihar in Madhya Pradesh, where he was the court musician and Ustad of the Raja of Maihar. Along with him came a very young Ravi Shankar, his son-in-law, his son Ali Akbar, and his shy charming daughter Annapurna, with her infant son Shubho. All three were to become musical geniuses.