Thank you for your email. I was completely bowled over by your letter regarding the function ‘Ravi Shankar, 90 not out’, you are planning to hold through I.A.F.A, at the Islamic Centre New Delhi on July 2nd, 2010!!!
I feel embarrassed and honoured at the same time. I have had a warm relationship with most of the names of the participants you have mentioned. Please thank them all in advance for their time.
Music is the soul of India. It has always been my life as well.
I was initiated into music and dance from the age of 10, by my eldest brother, Uday Shankar, and started performing publically from the age of 11. He took my mother, my two other brothers, my uncle, cousin, a few musicians, and me from Varanasi to Paris in 1930, which became our home and H.Q. for almost 4 years.
My Guru Baba Allauddin Khan joined the troupe later in 1935 and travelled with us only in Europe for one whole year. Before that, apart from dancing I was strumming the sitar, sarod, tooting the flute, and banging the drums without much training. Baba A. started from day one teaching me song bandishes and the sitar, which he told me to concentrate solely upon. He came back to India after one year, which threw me back to the multi faceted patterns of life. It was not only the sitar and dance but also many attractions that life had to offer to a young person.
The imminent World War 1 was to start and when Dada disbanded the troupe, I came back to India in April 1938. That is when I decided to take a different turn of life, bidding adieu to the glittering fun life I was leading. Shaving my head, wearing course khadi kurta pyjama, with bare necessities in a tin trunk, I went straight to Maihar where my Guru Baba Allauddin lived. He was shocked to see the change in me, but he was pleased, too! Thus started almost 6 ½ years of rigorous studying and learning music in the ancient Gurukul System.
With Baba’s blessings and my good fortune, I became famous and was accepted as a sitar player and gradually as a composer in India. After almost 5 ½ years in the A.I.R. as Director of the Vadya Vrind from 1949 to 1954, I took my solo journey as a sitarist in the mid fifties. My dear friend Yehudi Menuhin was helpful in my initial tour, but gradually, because of my long association with my superstar elder brother Uday, from whom I had learned about showmanship, presentation, and stage etiquette, I was able to incorporate these positive traits into my performance. There was no language barrier as I was very fluent in English and also in French and I could explain our music and the various intricacies of Ragas and Talas.
Within almost two years, I was performing in the largest halls all over Europe and the Americas. I was lucky enough to achieve super stardom and success from day one!
George Harrison became my student in the mid sixties, which certainly opened up the biggest door in all the continents for me. George was one whom I loved very much as he was so deeply attracted to our music and the Vedic culture and traditions of India.
The young generation all over the world became my fans! They were all loving me not only for my music , but also treating me as a Messiah or Guru. I could have worn an orange robe as a Nada – Yoga Guru and become a billionaire if I wanted to, but I was strongly critical about their wrong approach to our music and religion, through drugs and way of life. So, many young people were offended and left me. But those who stayed are still there as genuine lovers of our music and the traditional culture of India.
I have loved many countries like France, England, and Japan of which I have several fond memories, but I deeply fell in love with the United States from my first visit there in 1932 with Dada Uday. The variety of people from all over the world, and their love for all types of music, dance, films, innovation, creation, and the spirit of freedom attracted me the most. Though my first home is New Delhi and I am a citizen of India, my other home is in Encinitas near San Diego, California, which I love.
Thanking you Surendra. I end here with a prayer that I live the rest of my life being fit & able to serve the muse.
An aspirant to live till ‘101 All out’!
22 June 2010