When Robuji played in our house
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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.