Nehru of Indian Sitar Passes Away


There was a spot of darkness in the music conscience of the sub-continent when the news about Pt Ravishankar’s passing away came in. Whether one loved his music or not, whether one loved his life or not, there was a moment of sadness in everyone with a little exposure to any branch of music of this region. He could be termed as Pt Nehru of Indian music considering his image among the middle class in the country.

Pt Ravishankar’s music was emotive in nature, especially his post-success period. It is essential to mention here that his vilambit alaps and druts and dhuns of 1960-70 periods are considered his best by people who had followed the maestro closely. But the image that he carried over five decades was not of a traditional, professional Indian classical musician, but of a cultural ambassador of his nation, who was romantic, liberal, secular and over everything, a human being of finer qualities. This image gave him the tag of a ‘Nehruvian Sitarist’ in the mind of the Indian middle class. We can draw a lot of similarities between the Indian fascination for Pt Nehru and Pt Ravishankar. If we look at the social patterns whereby Nehru emerged as the icon of the modern Indian secular democracy, a similar line could be drawn in the case of a new icon emerged since 1970s in the music sensibilities of Indian middle class. However, it was not just his mesmeric speed on Sitar that made his iconic stature possible, it was the totality of that colourful and eventful life made him a romantic Gandharva of the Indian middle class inland and abroad.

It was in 1945, that 25 year old Ravishankar had given the tune for Muhammad Iqbal’s patriotic song for an undivided India, ‘Sare Jahan Se Acha’. In those days Ravishankar was associated with the Communist Party’s theatre wing IPTA. The Iqbal song was for a drama titled ‘Amar Bharat’ and another musician in the group composed it in a slow speed; and Ravishankar felt it evoked pathos. Here are his own words, as told to Shekhar Gupta of the Indian Express:

“For one year I was a music director for IPTA. And I did some ballet- India Immortal. It happened then, someone made me hear the song. ..I felt it very sad. How to make it a song that you can walk to or you can feel more vibrant towards? So it came spontaneously.”

The inclination for ‘drut’ (speed) was visible in Nehru and audible in Ravishankar throughout their lives. Both of them enjoyed the status of eternal romantic dreamers in public life. That was the reason why Nehru remained as the ambassador of the new Indian liberal secular democracy and Ravishankar remained as the cultural ambassador of the Indian middle class aspirations.

When we look at their Gurus, we see another kind of similarities. If we look at the life of Ustad Allauddin Khan, we can easily see a lot of Gandhi in him. As a disciplinarian in life, he was as strict as Gandhi throughout. Both of them had maintained an ascetic austerity in their lives. Both Baba and Bapu were not very supportive when it came to their kin. Ustad Allauddin Khan had maximum followers and disciples in the history of Indian music talim and only Gandhi could match it though in another sphere of activity.

Lastly, Nehru and Ravishankar, disciples of two ascetics always remained secular like their teachers; though it remains a fact that unlike their gurus both of them had a liking for addressing galleries very often than their conscience.

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