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Millennium Post

Sitar lost in silence

There is never enough space to write about Ravishankar. That he could make the sitar weep, we know. That he is a talismanic sitarist, we know. That he was a magician of music, we know. That in him the West and the East merged like few others, we know. That his service to Indian music and making Indian classical music popular in the West is unparalleled, we know. And yet, never we could have enough of him. He lived life to the lees, played the sitar unlike anyone ever born or ever will be, travelled the globe as an ambassador of music and harmony. He came from the East, embraced the West stood at the forefront of world music. His collaborations with Alla Rakha or Satyajit Ray here or violin legend Yehudi Menuhin there or rockstar George Harrison in between is well known and well documented. He leaves behind a legion of recordings, magical compositions, innumerable live concerts played to a mesmerised audience and a life and work that is part of global music history. He lived and grew up as an Indian and yet the only place he belongs to, he ever belonged to, is the whole planet. His death is a loss to the world, to every member of the species who has ever, even for a day, loved music for what it could do to the soul.

Ravishankar, who was born in Varanasi to Bengali parents in 1912, travelled to Europe with his brother, the other legend Uday Shankar, as a young member of his troupe. His tutelage to Ustad Allaudin Khan and marriage to the latter’s daughter, the equally talented Annapurna Devi is the stuff of legends. Then came his collaborations with Ray for a number of films including Panther Panchali, the film that changed the history of cinema. Then he set out for the world, befriended Menuhin and other greats and performed in numerous world concerts, including the era-defining Woodstock in 1969. In 1971 came the concert for Bangladesh, another legendary event. Pandit Ravishankar, who was based in Californian coast in the last few decades, in a villa that overlooked the Pacific, lived a life of a star. And every inch he was born and feted to be one. He will receive the lifetime Grammy next year, after having won it thrice.

He belonged to a generation of Bengali artistes who were cosmopolitan, global and dynamic. He never learned his sitar to further its esoteric appeal. He played to the masses because he wanted to take music to where it belonged, to the people. This is his biggest achievement. He was a genuine artiste, who was also a mass magnet and in whom the high and the popular came in to live-in effortlessly. He was also a guru par excellence, a revered teacher and a man who was only too keen to pass his legacy to a generation that came after him. But a legend is a legend and whatever be his bequest, Ravishankar will remain non-pareil. With his passing away Sitar has perhaps lost its best ever student; and master. The sitar will weep, its strings having gone. But Ravishankar will never die, because true music can never die.
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