Every day I am reminded of the inexpressibly huge contribution Guruji made to all music. Every Springtime, especially on April 7th, his birthday, this comes even more powerfully into focus, bringing back so many memories of so many fascinating conversations.
These conversations include him recounting, for example, his life in Paris in the 1930’s. Paris at that time was the epicentre of Western Culture and Ravi Shankar, the boy from Benares, met many of its central characters: Henry Miller, Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Paderewski, Casals, the great bass singer Chaliapin, Toscanini, Fritz Kreisler and the young Yehudi Menuhin.
I am particularly reminded at this time of our composing sessions for the opera Sukanya, (to be premiered in May next year). Some of these sessions took place in hospital, where in the incongruous surroundings of a high-tech Southern Californian medical centre, with the April sunshine pouring through the window, this far off world came vividly to life as he described the sound of Chaliapin singing at the Paris Opera. I saw even more clearly how he was able to take the best of any culture he came into contact with and make it uniquely his own, each element contributing to his monumental artistry which in turn manifested itself in the ability to create the most sublime music out of thin air and at the drop of a hat. Yehudi Menuhin, who grew up to be one of the greatest violinists of all time and frequent collaborator with Guruji encapsulated this beautifully in his remark “To me, his genius and his humanity can only be compared to that of Mozart”.