Home >mint-lounge >Opinion >Remembering Panditji: an artiste of the world
There is little one can do but to accept the finality of death, try and quell the tremor in one’s voice, gulp down the lump in one’s throat, and wipe away the tear that trickles down one’s face as we hear excerpts of the music that made Panditji immortal. Photo: HT (HT)
There is little one can do but to accept the finality of death, try and quell the tremor in one’s voice, gulp down the lump in one’s throat, and wipe away the tear that trickles down one’s face as we hear excerpts of the music that made Panditji immortal. Photo: HT
(HT)

Remembering Panditji: an artiste of the world

For the student of music and the music lover, his music will speak and silence the critics and console those who mourn

The finality of death, though inevitable, is frightening nevertheless, for it spares no one. Not even those we hold beloved, sacred, invincible and immortal. Why then would it spare Pandit Ravi Shankar, or his loving family, extended family of faithful disciples, or countless grieving music lovers who mourn his loss, or who like me, desperately hoped against hope this morning that the news of his demise would prove to be incorrect. There is little one can do but to accept the finality of death, try and quell the tremor in one’s voice, gulp down the lump in one’s throat, and wipe away the tear that trickles down one’s face as we hear excerpts of the music that made Panditji immortal. And of course, life will go on as it always does. For his loved ones and family, life will go on with an aching sense of loss, but go on nevertheless till their time comes. For the rest of us, the realization of loss may be shorter-lived and then we too will resume our respective lives till our time is up. The platitudes and condolence messages, memorial meetings and concerts will fade away from public memory or be revived when convenient. But nothing, or little, will change for the lot of arts and artistes in India, the land that gave to the world the music of Ravi Shankar.

Unlike Maqbool Fida Husain, another Goliath from the world of arts, Ravi Shankar was not driven away violently by citizens of the land of his birth. But a general apathy towards art, artistes and their welfare and well-being must surely have propelled him to secure a more comfortable and luxurious life outside India. Perhaps the same thought motivated other great masters from India, past and present, including the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain to transplant themselves to foreign soil. For what could they have achieved here, in our great country? Had they not moved away, perhaps they too would be mired in the grim world of Indian arts, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence as so many artistes do in our country. As we speak, musicians in India, working not in remote parts of the country but in urban metropolitan towns, still earn as little as 500 a concert or show. Little surprise then that the sitar maestro, mourned across the world, chose to make his home in the US, only to visit India briefly every year. This is not to suggest that any musician with a visa to a promised land far away from India will necessarily find the success and acclaim that Panditji wore so graciously on his shoulders, but it may be the right time to examine why artistes often think of moving away from India permanently.

In the passing away of a historic public figure like Ravi Shankar, we choose always to enumerate their achievements, the awards and the accolades. Indeed, at a moment such as this, it would be uncharitable to pull the curtains off their failures, or weaknesses, if any. And yet, it is in remembering the life of a maestro, no doubt replete with challenges, hardships, struggles and conflicts that one could find some solace, and much inspiration. From the extreme distaste and contempt for Indian music that colonial accounts reveal, the reaction of Western music lovers has moved steadily towards a deep reverence for classical Indian music. That Ravi Shankar’s contribution to this shift is integral would not be an exaggeration. The uncharitable among us, of whom there are many, would say that in order to make Indian music palatable to the non-Indian ear, he infused it with gimmicks and played to the galleries. The fact is that gimmicks or not, he was an artiste whose mastery over technique, expression and raagdari can neither be denied nor willed away. His music spoke to people, touched their hearts and moved them to tears and to joy. If others too had the same ability, or were even more gifted than him, but did not enjoy due recognition, no amount of running down the Ravi Shankar brand of music will get them the acclaim and fame supposedly due to them.

The list of his achievements is impossible to list and enumerate—the awards, honorary degrees, positions of honour and respect, compositions, ragas, scores, platinum discs, Grammys and more. The critics, too, are many, both of the man and his music. But in the final analysis, for the student of music and the music lover, his music will speak and silence the critics and console those who mourn his demise.

Hindustani classical singer Shubha Mudgal writes the Music Matters column for Lounge.

Subscribe to newsletters
* Enter a valid email
* Thank you for subscribing to our newsletter.

Click here to read the Mint ePaperLivemint.com is now on Telegram. Join Livemint channel in your Telegram and stay updated

Close
×
My Reads Logout