Tribute to Uday Shankar, Ravi Shankar

On Art & Human Warmth

By Omprakash Chourasiya




Ample literature is available on contribution of Pandit Udayshankar and Pandit Ravishankar in getting universal acclaim for Indian classical music and dance. Topmost celebrities and experts from around the world have highlighted their qualities. During the period when I was in process of being recognized as an upcoming artiste of Santoor, it was divine intervention that I was granted access to both of these stalwarts as a family-friend. I was blessed with their affection and kind concern. This clearly indicated that with these great celebrities the only thing which counted was music. A scholar of music was musician first, aything else besides, and therefore, worthy of their attention.

Ravi ji's elder brother Udayshankar had become active as early as 1930s, touring round the globe with his ballet troupe and earning kudos for Indian art. The troupe required live music and for some time Ravishankar ji too acted as music director for the troupe. When after a brief stint, Ustad Allauddin Khan too expressed his inability to travel with the troupe Pandit Lalmani Misra was requested to accompany the ballet-troupe. For several years during late forties and early fifties, Pandit Misra travelled with Udayshankar ji, creating novel orchestral compositions.

During the sixties, Pandit Ravishankar ji was gaining repute as top-most artiste of Sitar; and it was quite a while since he had begged off from acting as music director to Uday Shankar ji's dance troupe. It was around then that Uday ji's son Anand Shankar reached his teens. Ravi ji was requested by his elder brother to train Anand in Sitar. For some reasons (probably because of his own movements due to performances) he could not devote time for this purpose. The two brothers discussed the matter and decided to send Anand to Pandit Lalmani Misra, whose capabilities were well recognized by the Shankars. At this moment he happened to teach at B.H.U. in Varanasi. Thus in 1965 Anand Shankar reached Varanasi to learn Sitar with Pandit Lalmani Misra.

As luck would have it, I too was learning music with Pandit Misra. It was natural for me to get acquainted with Anand Shankar; and merely a matter of time, to be treated as family member of Shankars. Amala ji would visit Varanasi often to be with son Anand, and I was recognized as Anand Shankar's friend. We both stayed at Pandit Misra's house and music acted as a bond for our friendship.

During our stay at Varanasi, Ganges was flooded one particular year. The flood-waster reached inside the university campus. Amla ji got worried and made a telephone call from Calcutta. She asked Anand to come back home and bring his friend and Guru-bhai Omprakash along.

Because of such unusual circumstances, I sought permission from my Guru, Pandit Lalmani Misra and left Varanasi and travelled to Calcutta with Anand. I stayed with his family for over a fortnight. Apart from parents Udayshakar ji and Amla ji, Anand's sister Mamta and their aunt (Amla ji's sister) constituted the core family. I was mesmerized by rich culture of Bengal knowing it for the first time. All members of family would join on dinner table and the meal sessions would be rife with lively conversation. When the conversation swerved into Bangla, I would sit silent chewing on my food. Suddenly one day Udayshankar ji said in a sharp tone, "We are all speaking in Bangla which Anand's friend Omprakash does not understand. None of us would speak Bangla when he is on the table. He is Anand's friend and our dear guest. We would all talk in Hindi so that may enjoy and tke part in our discussions."
It should be mentioned here that Udayshankar ji could speak Hindi with aplomb. But, it was his warmth that touched me. I could then appreciate the greatness of his persona. Not only had he demonstrated concern for a young guest but also given a lesson in civility and decorum to his family. It was association with the family as Anand's friend that I was fortunate in evoking Ravishankar ji's interest. He was more interested in my musical learning and practice. In the contemporary age of mechanical responses, such warmth and social decorum is hard to envisage.

The fact is well-known that Ravishankar ji had learned music and Sitar with Ustad Allauddin Khan. When Madhya Pradesh government started its music academy, it was named after this great teacher from Maihar. Having stayed for years in this small town learning with 'Baba', Ravishankar ji developed an affinity with Madhya Pradesh and the Academy. Despite his international engagements, he maintained regular contact with cultural activities in the state. Since its inception, I was with the academy. The infrequent interaction during sixties as Anands friend grew into warm relationship in seventies. Despite his illustrious position, Ravishankar ji himself would ring me up, to discuss affairs of Academy and of my Guru, Dr. Lalmani Misra.
As secretary of the academy, it was my task to promote cultural activities throughout the state. The two pre-existing strong centers for classical music were Gwalior and Maihar. Pandit ji came to perform at festival at Maihar that has since become an annual feature and essential part of Madhya Pradesh cultural calendar. The way he played there, everyone was deeply moved. His performance there was different from his other recitals that were always impeccable and perfect. Ravishankar ji played without restraint as if he was offering a tribute to his master through the instrument he was taught. Visiting Bharat Bhawan at Bhopal or Tansen festival at Gwalior, he would spend time discussing progress of activities at Academy. He would offer me suggestions to extend activities and reach of Academy. There was a period when it was proposed to change the name of academy; Ravishankar ji's intervention ensured its continuance.

It is sheer fortune on my part to have received such warmth and love from two great artistes – Pandit Udayshankar and Pandit Ravishankar. Not only did this mould my professional career but also my personal life-view. Both of them emphasized and succeeded in establishing merit of noble principles, demanding discipline, planned exercise and imaginative practice of Indian classical arts before the world. The gap left by demise of Pandit Ravishankar is irreparable; the world waits for the next generation to investigate new dimensions to add to Indian music.

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