The Elgin Road house with the ship-shaped top. Picture by Sayantan Ghosh
Calcutta, Dec. 12: Pandit Ravi Shankar’s friends, The Beatles, would have us believe We all live in a Yellow Submarine.
However, the sitar maestro’s preferred destination for almost three decades until the late 1970s was a house shaped like a ship on Elgin Road. Yes, it is painted yellow.
At the Sens’ home, called Jahajbari for its shape, he put up every time he was in the city.
The 10/1A Elgin Road address also played host to several private recitals of Ravi Shankar, some of which were jugalbandis with Ustad Alla Rakha Khan.
Ronita Agarwal, who was eight when Ravi Shankar first visited in the 1950s, remembers him as Robu Kaku. “He was always very jovial and approachable and called me Tuni,” she said today.
He used to stay at the house as a guest of Ronita’s parents, businessman Kalyan and Kalpana Sen.
“Robu Kaku would sometimes joke that he had nowhere else to go and this was the only house he knew in Calcutta,” said Ronita, now 59, who lives in Singapore.
Ronita’s cousin Raka Sen, who still lives in Jahajbari said: “The house would wear a festive look every time he would stay here. Journalists, disciples, artistes, Satyajit Ray, Soumitra Chatterjee, Ali Akbar Khan sahab, every one would be there.”
In the early seventies, Ravi Shankar had got his friend George Harrison of The Beatles to this house during one of his visits. While Ravi Shankar, who had a weakness for pabda fish, would insist on home-cooked Bengali food, Harrison was a practising vegetarian. “I vividly remember Harrison asking for rice, dal and green chillies for lunch,” recalled Ronita.
Ravi Shankar would put up with the Sens once every year throughout the seventies.
Two hours every morning, from 7am to 9am, were devoted to his disciples who would flock to meet their guru.
Raka Sen recalled her father telling her on numerous occasions about how Panditji was at his musical best during his ryaz. “Few were allowed to sit in during his practice sessions. Once, when my father did manage to attend one, he said he heard Panditji play the best rendition of the raag Jaya Jayanti that he had ever heard.”
There were several intimate private sitar recitals by Ravi Shankar for a close group of friends and relatives in the lounge on the first floor. Right across the lounge was a suite that was kept ready for him every time he visited.
“I remember the humility with which he would respond to the praise showered on him after his performances. I had been won over by his disarming smile,” said Ronita.
The Jahajbari, which is over a hundred years old and has been declared as heritage site by the state government, has also served as a set for several films, including Satyajit Ray’s Jana Aranya.
Located next door to Forum mall, the house was built like a ship with spherical windows as Ronita’s grandfather was in the shipping business.
From the 1980s till 2002, late industrialist Lala Sridhar had hosted the maestro at his Ballygunge Park Road house.