Calcutta, May 20: Pandit Ravi Shankar has graciously declined the Banga Bibhushan honour that was conferred on a large group of individuals by chief minister Mamata Banerjee on the first anniversary of her government today.
The 92-year-old sitar maestro was reluctant to be clubbed with the large group of recipients and so chose not to “accept this award myself”.
Sukanya Shankar, the maestro’s wife, told The Telegraph from San Diego tonight: “In the beginning, we were told that he and Suchitra Senji were going to be given the award but we heard from some of our friends who received an invitation to the event that around 10 or 12 artistes were being presented with the same award.”
She said that “Raviji has been healing in the hospital and all we ask of you is to pray that he gets better soon”.
A mail announcing the award came from a person called Kamal Kanti Mazumdar, Sukanya Shankar said.
An official in the information and cultural affairs department had earlier in the day said Ravi Shankar sent an email addressed to the chief minister conveying his reluctance to accept the award.
Sukanya Shankar recounted to The Telegraph what the maestro wanted to convey through the mail: “In our culture, we have always given a lot of importance to age and experience, with regards to how we proffer titles and respects. I’m extremely happy to hear that several wonderful artistes who are like children or even grandchildren to me are going to be conferred this award. And they have my congratulations and blessings. However, I hope you understand that I cannot accept this award myself.”
Sukanya Shankar said: “I think he’s right. He’s got the topmost awards and you can’t give an award to him and at the same time give it to those who are third-generation artistes. No hard feelings. He loves Bengal and was very happy when he first heard about it (the award) but he has his values. After all these years, now he is 92 and can’t be treated like a 29-year-old or a 51-year-old.”
Ravi Shankar’s name was not mentioned throughout the felicitation programme at Netaji Indoor Stadium this evening when the chief minister conferred 13 Banga Bibhushan awards. The names of 14 recipients of the Banga Bibhushan, which carries an award of Rs 2 lakh each, had figured in the invitation card circulated by the information and cultural affairs department that organised the event.
The names listed were those of Ravi Shankar, actress Suchitra Sen, hockey legend Leslie Claudius, writers Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay and Sanjib Chattopadhyay, theatre veterans Rudraprasad Sengupta, Bibhash Chakraborty and Shaoli Mitra, painter Jogen Chowdhury, shehnai exponent Ustad Ali Ahmed Hussain Khan, actor Ranjit Mallick, film director Goutam Ghose, poet Joy Goswami and vocalist Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty.
“From the beginning, when our communication with Pandit Ravi Shankar started, we had made it clear that there was no pressure on him to attend the programme. He is aged and physically unwell and we understand that. We had decided that if he could not make it, we would send him the award,” said a source in the chief minister’s office.
Ravi Shankar is in hospital in the US. There is a provision to accept awards in absentia through representatives.
“While Panditji’s name was the first on the list, most other names cannot compare on grounds of seniority or stature,” said a veteran who knows Ravi Shankar. “After all, Panditji is not only a recipient of the Bharat Ratna, three Grammy Awards and some of the world’s greatest honours, but is also hailed as one of the country’s biggest cultural ambassadors in the West.”
Other sources said that in the mail, Ravi Shankar had also congratulated the chief minister for the work her government had been doing.
After coming to power last year, Mamata had instituted the Banga Bibhushan awards to honour “Bengal’s luminaries from various fields”. “This year, we are considering the names of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Suchitra Sen and others,” she had said earlier this year.
The list, however, turned out to be much longer. A possible explanation for the long list came from Mamata herself. “Bengal is the cultural capital of the world. Be it cinema or theatre or literature or jatra or painting, Bengal has an unlimited resource of talented personalities in every field,” the chief minister said.
“The Banga Bibhushan and the Banga Bhushan Shamman are part of the state government’s effort at honouring those who have made Bengal proud by way of their immense contribution in their profession. Every year the state government will felicitate such personalities at this event,” she added.
When The Telegraph spoke to Ravi Shankar on the eve of his 90th birthday on April 7 in 2010, the sitar legend, who has been based in the US for more than five decades, had turned emotional, choosing to speak in Bengali throughout the conversation.
It was hard to miss the enthusiasm in his voice when he fielded a question on his next trip to his hometown. Ravi Shankar had said: “Khub ichchhe achhey Kolkatay ashaar. Eto bhalobashi Kolkata-ke kintu du-teen bochhor hoye gechhey ashtey parini. Dekho jodi tomader taan thakey taholey ashbo (I really want to come to Calcutta. I love Calcutta so much but I haven’t been able to go there for two-three years. Let’s see if the love of you all can take me there).”