When Robuji played in our house

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.

My memory of Shankar goes back to 1942, when he was 22 and I was six. We called him Robuji. His aquiline features, sparkling eyes, long black tresses and ready wit endeared him to me, and though just a boy I would spend hours listening to him practice. Our home would be full of the sound of music as Robuji on the sitar, Annapurnaji on the surbahar and Ali Akbarji on the sarod would practice for hours on end. Robuji usually practiced in a veranda next to his bedroom. He had his face to the wall as he played alaap on a morning raga. He swayed gently with the melody that emanated from his strings one with himself, his sitar and a higher power. Listeners began to assemble quietly behind him. Those were the days of divine music.

And so in those unhurried times, the years passed by. Public concerts were few and spread over the whole of north India. Robuji and Ali Akbarji would often be on tour by train of course but Delhi had become their home. In the mid-1940s, Ali Akbarji became the court musician and Ustad to the Maharaja of Jodhpur. Robuji in 1948 was offered the position of the Director of the National Orchestra at All India Radio. He was delighted to receive a princely sum of Rs 1000 per month.

In the early 1950s, Yehudi Menuhin visited India and gave a concert at the newly built Pusa auditorium. During his stay in Delhi, he asked Narain Menon, then director general of All India Radio, to arrange for him to hear some Indian classical music. Menon readily agreed and invited Shankar and Ali Akbar to play for him at his government quarters. My mother and I were present on this historic occasion. Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar played a duet with Chaturlal on the tabla, and I could see the awesome impact on the sensitive face of Menuhin. It must have prompted him to say that while Western music defines different colours, Indian music portrays the different shades of the same colour.

In later years, the association of these great maestros led to the historic UN concert where Menuhin and Shankar played their famous duet. As the 1960s approached, however, there was a new fervour on the musical scene in both India and abroad. Delhi was fast becoming a cultural centre where Shankar took the lead in the creation of "Jhankar", which organised an annual festival of music to which the leading musicians of the country were invited.

The decades of the 1960s and 1970s were, for Shankar, a time of soaring success, and then there was no looking back. It makes me feel blessed to have seen, firsthand, the making of the father of world music.

Vinay Bharat-Ram is an industrialist and economist

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