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In the shadows of the great - 1
From childhood I had heard about the great dancer, Uday Shankar. His troupe, 'Uday Shankar and his Hindu Ballet' went all over the world, to standing ovations.
In 1923, in Paris, he performed 'Radha-Krishna Ballet' with Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, to wonderment of the audience. It was Indian dance style blended with European techniques. This was new for the West and also new for connoisseurs of dance in India. Both welcomed this departure from rigidity of traditional dancing. His name became a household word.

His younger brother, Ravi Shankar also started his career first as dancer in Uday's troupe. He branched off shortly as an independent sitar player, training under legendary Ustad Allauddin Khan. He married his Ustad's talented daughter, Annapurna Devi.

I first saw him practicing sitar at All India Radio studios on Parliament Street, New Delhi when he was their music director from 1949. I had come there with my father, as he had to record his talk. By then he had already composed music for Satyajit Ray's 'Apur Sansar'.

I first heard his public performance, a jugalbandi with Ustad Allah Rakha Khan in 1957, on the lawns of Brabourne Stadium, Bombay. It was a summer evening, and the entranced audience kept asking for more. They obliged and played till 2.00 a.m.much to the delight of all of us.

In the meanwhile, his world tours resulted in a new found appreciation of Indian classical music by Western audiences. Teaming up with Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the conquest of the West was complete. What with a thankful violinist Yehudi Menuhin introducing Yoga to the world, too! Menuhin had fallen into deep depression that marred his musical career. Under tutelage Yoga guru B.K.S. Iyengar he has succesfuly healed himself. Those were culturally heady days for Indians.

When we moved to Little Gibbs Road, Malabar Hill, we found ourselves close to his flat. My wife and I attended a Lecture-Demo by him at Bombay University. He had just composed music for Hollywood movie, 'Charley' - story of an intellectually challenged man! He explained to us the basic similarities and differences between Indian and Western classical music. He also explained that Western counterpart of our 'jugalbandi' is a bit different.

There, one artist sings or plays and then the whole orchestra responds. And so back and forth! It is called 'Counterpoint' in western Classical music. To demonstrate his points, he either played the sitar or hummed or sang. We were elated.

I once spotted him at Vizag airport and we were to board the same flight. A young Indian with an American pal tapped me on the shoulder and asked who the person with the instrument was. Ravi Shankar, I replied. He triumphantly went back to his American pal and announced, 'That's the famous guy, who plays with the Beatles'!

When he married Sukanya, Sumathi Kaushal our daughter's Kuchipudi dance guru, gave away the bride. Once on a flight from Delhi to Bombay I found myself sandwiched between Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Pandit Ravi Shankar. I offered to switch, so that the two maestros could sit together. Both declined and started small talk with me. I knew that both were eyeing the illustrations in the book I was reading.

Finally, Ravi Shankar asked what I was reading. It was a book on World Mythologies. Ravi Shankar took the book from me and leafed through it. I asked both of them to autograph the book. Both wrote very meaningful sentences. As we got down at Bombay, they continued to chat with me, as we waited for our luggage.

While leaving, Ravi Shankar snatched the book from me. Impishly he said, 'I'm taking it home'. 'Please do. It's an honour! He tapped me on the back and returned the book, 'I was joking'. Both the maestros were generous to me, a commoner. Hallmark of breeding and greatness!

Among other films, he had also composed music for the very popular movie, 'Anuradha', staring Balraj Sahni and Leela Naidu. His music whether classical, devotional, filmy or with western counterparts, remains with us, for it was timeless! We were all grateful, that he was given the well deserved Bharat Ratna in his own lifetime.

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