Thursday, December 13, 2012

Ravi Shankar – A Tribute

It was in the early seventies. I was in Mysore – studying Engineering. Ravishankar was billed to perform in Bangalore. The cheapest ticket was a whopping ten rupees. I asked my father if I could go to Bangalore and attend the concert. The answer was a no, we could not afford it. It was also a matter of principle – we should not spend that kind of money on entertainment.
I was crestfallen but there ended the matter.

In 1980 I was working in Bombay and there was this all night concert at the St Xavier’s college with N Rajam and Sangeetha concert followed by Ravishankar. I bought a ticket, weeks ahead, and went and listened to him. When he came on the stage the organisers announced that he was to receive the Padmabhushan. An electric moment. The audience cheered and clapped and whistled for minutes. He was very gracious and he had this magical quality that created excitement wherever he went.

The story that I want to remember is what I heard from someone. He was there when this happened. All my facts may be wrong but the story is true or accurate.

There was this all night concert in the race course in Calcutta. Ravishankar’s was the second concert and the first one was by a great artist but, with a drinking problem. He was half an hour or more late coming to the stage. The audience was getting restive. Finally when he was escorted to the stage, he was weaving and staggering. He could hardly sit and play his instrument. There were loud protests and there were signs of things turning violent. Ravishankar came on stage with his accompanists and the first artist was taken off the stage. He was at the venue far earlier than his time – he wanted to listen to the first concert. His tastes were eclectic.

Ravishankar was all grace. He requested the audience to quieten and they did. He said something like, “The man who has just gone off the stage is a real genius with prodigious talent and accomplishment. Such geniuses sometimes have problems and we should ignore that. When they do play, they play like no one else can. We should take that and leave the rest. I know that you have come here to listen to good music. In his place, I will play for you and hope I can compensate in some measure.”

He went on to play through the previous artist’s time and his own too.

A tribute to Ravishankar by my friend Anwar - a brilliant artist.

That defines Ravishankar like nothing else can. He was a lover of music and musicians and a phenomenal, almost unparalleled, man and musician himself.

There is another incident that gives one a glimpse of the man. He was playing in Dharwar and the venue was close to the railway track. As he was playing, a train approached and blew the whistle. The listeners were disturbed by this harsh intrusion. Not so, Ravishankar. He just pulled the string hard and reached the note of the whistle and thereby included that into the raga he was playing. What could have been, actually was, a harsh intrusion was converted into something the audience cheered!

Now my own pigment liner line drawing of the man.


  1. Nice reading Anil

  2. Delightfully human insights into the Master's mind. Thanks for writing this, Anil!

  3. Thanks for this music in words Anil sir.

  4. Anonymous10:09 pm

    Very good write up. Art is art, and is great no doubt but you showed the humane side of the artist. Good read.


  5. Thanks Nandini, Dintoons. Double thanks to Anwar. Thanks Jayashree.
    Many of these artists shelter such contradictions!