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Saturday , December 22 , 2012
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The double helix bond

- Tribute to Ravi Shankar

Washington, Dec. 21: The memorial service for Pandit Ravi Shankar yesterday in California’s Encinitas reflected his musical legacy with tributes from Beatle George Harrison’s widow Olivia, singer Peter Gabriel, film director Martin Scorsese and conductor Zubin Mehta.

Mehta verbalised what many people felt when Ravi Shankar died: the conductor felt like a “little crumb” when he heard Ravi Shankar play. Olivia’s words that the sitar legend helped her late husband have a more “meaningful life” reflected another popular theme on Ravi Shankar’s legacy.

“They were like father and son as well as brothers… they made each other laugh as if they shared a secret. And I am sure they did,” Olivia said of the two men. “They exchanged ideas and melodies until their minds and hearts, East and West, were entwined, like a double helix.”

Praising Ravi Shankar as a “true master”, Scorsese said his music was “ancient and immediate, impassioned and meditative, full of sorrow and joy”.

Gabriel spoke for millions of westerners when he said the Indian icon had “opened the door to non-western music for millions of people around the world”.

Norah Jones, the once estranged daughter of the sitar maestro, led the memorial service. She is scheduled to make her first journey of musical celebration to India in March next year with a performance in Mumbai, according to Ravi Shankar’s family sources in Encinitas, the beach city near San Diego which the family have made their home. Norah may also perform in Bangalore and New Delhi.

For years, Norah underplayed her Indian heritage, including any musical inheritance from her father, but after reconciling with Ravi Shankar in recent years, she has travelled to India with his family, including a visit to Guruvayur temple in Kerala.

But this will be the first time that Norah will take to a stage in India and perform in public unlike Ravi Shankar’s other daughter, sitarist Anoushka Shankar.

There will be a rare poignancy to her concerts in India in the backdrop of the recent rape of a woman in a moving bus in New Delhi, which has caused widespread outrage. Her concerts will be dedicated to women and will also deal with the safety and security of women in India.

In a condolence message, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh cherished their shared time when both men were members of the Rajya Sabha. “It was difficult, often, to judge what was more remarkable — the man or his music,” Singh said in his message to Sukanya Shankar, Ravi Shankar’s widow.

India’s consul-general in San Francisco, N. Parthasarthi, attended the memorial service and presented flowers on behalf of the people of India. Earlier, India’s ambassador to the US, Nirupama Rao, visited Encinitas to condole the death with Sukanya, Norah and Anoushka.

Although Ravi Shankar personified India, he had made California his home for more than five decades. A distance with India, caused by geography, was inevitable, but like the outreach by Norah to her “fatherland”, Rao had made a special effort to reach out to Ravi Shankar’s family since she became ambassador to the US.

“Ambassador Nirupama Rao has been in close touch with the family of Pandit Ravi Shankar over the last few months,” the Indian embassy here said in a media release last night. Ravi Shankar’s family had asked Rao to attend his concert in Long Beach, California, last month. It will remain special. That was his last public performance.

The Prime Minister kept constantly abreast of developments following Ravi Shankar’s heart-valve replacement surgery, through Rao. When he died, the family wished to have a specific pair of Hindu priests flown in from London with connections to the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in the UK to perform Ravi Shankar’s last rites.

But US visas are hard to get at short notice. Rao intervened with the state department to facilitate travel by these priests to California.

When Ravi Shankar died, Norah was in Latin America on previously planned concert travel. But since her return to the US, “Geetu”, as Ravi Shankar’s family calls her, has been in Encinitas till today.

Ravi Shankar’s ashes will be taken to Varanasi, where he was born, for immersion, according to the family.

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