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Pupils recall a humane and zestful Guruji

New Delhi, Dec. 12: Some students at Ravi Shankar’s institute here seemed to be struck by a coincidence as they gathered to mourn for their “Guruji”: a rare genius had passed away on a rare date.

“The date 12/12/12 comes once in a lifetime but it proved ominous. We lost our beloved Guruji and one of the world’s greatest musicians,” said a young student at the Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts in south Delhi, tears rolling down her cheeks.

It was Tuesday evening in San Diego when the sitar legend died in the US city, but it was six ’clock on Wednesday morning in India.

The maestro’s students — most of whom preferred to describe themselves as “disciples” — remembered him as a “great human being” who was “full of life” even at 92.

“He was a lively person and had a great sense of humour. He used to crack jokes with all of us whenever we met him. Guruji had the innocence and inquisitiveness of a child,” said Shubhendra Rao.

His father N.R. Rama Rao, too, had been a pupil of the maestro and apparently named his son “after Guruji’s son Shubhendra from his first marriage”.

Impressed by a young Shubhendra Rao’s talent, Ravi Shankar had accepted him as a pupil, and he accompanied his Guruji to many of his concerts.

“He believed that music is God and dedicated his entire life to music. Even at his age he was very enthusiastic and full of life. He read a lot and wanted to learn new things every day,” Shubhendra said.

“This is the saddest day of my life. I was one of his closest (pupils) and I am fortunate to have seen his human side as well,” he said.

Ravi Shankar would come to the institute every year in November-December. Last year, he arrived in November and stayed on till March this year.

“All his disciples came to meet him. We had a great time and he shared so many interesting stories with us. He had an amazing memory,” said Barun Kumar Pal, who is in charge of the institute.

Pal said he had spoken to Ravi Shankar over the phone last week. “He sounded very happy and asked me about the institute. He even remembered the names of all the students and asked about their progress.”

Some 70 students are learning classical singing, dance or how to play instruments at the institute, Pal said.

“Before leaving in March, he told the young students that music should have depth and it should touch the heart, not just the mind. This has proved to be his last message for the young generation,” Pal said.

The students prayed for the departed soul at the institute’s music hall in the evening. “His daughter Anoushka sent us a mail in the afternoon informing us about his death,” Pal said.

The hall was decorated with photos of Ravi Shankar with various global celebrities and dignitaries. Citations and awards he had received, including the Bharat Ratna and an honorary Knighthood from Britain, were displayed.

“Setting up this institute was his lifelong dream, and it became fully functional in 2002. Every year he made it a point to visit us. The students here are trained in the true spirit of the guru-shishya tradition,” Pal said.

Housed in an elegant pink granite building, the institute attracts students from across the world. “He was our God and will always be in our hearts. The loss is irreparable,” said Radhika, a student of Odissi.

The students took a vow today to ensure the maestro’s legacy lived on.

“We are yet to get over the shock but we shall continue his legacy, come what may. His legacy will guide future generations of music students,” Pal said.