Sitar maestro undimmed

Ravi Shankar
Deccan Chronicle

“You have heard the young people run, I cannot run so fast, but I will try,” said the legend, as he walked out of the stage for what was to be the last time in our City. It was an event of grandiose proportions, an honour for all those given a chance to hear Pandit Ravi Shankar bid Bengaluru farewell, after nearly a century of touching lives wherever he went.

The audience was given to understand that Anoushka Shankar would perform for the first half of the evening, after which her father would join her on the stage. Anoushka began with Raag Puriya Dhanashree, which set the mood for the evening. She was full of drive and youthful energy, ploughing her way through the Raagas with buoyance and vitality.

The audience leapt to its feet as the Pandit walked onto the stage. His frail countenance did nothing to diminish his strength as an artist, and no length of time can dull the smile that lights up his face, or mar that brilliant showmanship. “I hope you recognise me, I’ve gained some weight,” he said in jest, as he sat down.

Yaman Kalyan, the Panditji's personal favourite, was the one he had earmarked for the start of his performance. It is common knowledge, but it needs to be said – when the Panditji picks up a sitar, it begins to speak. From sobs of desperation to delighted peals of laughter, listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar is like being caught in the throes of wild, unbridled emotion. The melody flowed through the strings in a kaleidoscopic burst.

He improvised at every turn, seizing every chance to frisk into unknown territory. It was hard to keep up, sometimes. Pandit Ravi Shankar, not disposed to excesses of sentiment, ended his performance with a rigorous rendition of raag Khamaj. He urged his accompanists to go faster and faster, providing touches of improvised genius to an already intense arrangement. The performance, when it came to an end, came in a surge of exuberance, reminiscent of the man himself when his music and his showmanship were at their peak.

To see a personality of such magnitude take his final bow and melt away into the past was a moving experience. Mere words do not suffice, for only the heart can truly understand. Even his sitar seemed to weep.