Farewell to a genius.

When I was growing up I remember seeing the pictures of the Beatles with flowers in their hair and strumming the Sitar with the Indian sitar player and musician Ravi Shanker. I was too engrossed in the pop music then to take much notice of the classical music and what it has to offer.

As I grew older and met my husband who is a fan of Indian classical music I became more interested,and started to learn and appreciate what it offered.

Sitar means “seven strings’. This is a long instrument which seven strings which is plucked to produce music. All Indian music is based on a system of seven notes and something known as the Raga. This is traced back to nearly 2,000 years to its origin in the Vedic Hymns in the Hindu temples. I have always found Sitar music to be uplifting, serene and spiritual. And one of my favourite pastime is to play it when I want to relax.

Ravi Shankar who is considered the master of this and who has played with Yehudi Menuhin, Zubin Mehta and Andre Previn has brought this form of music to the western audiences, Indian music is much appreciated and respected in the west today.Ravi Shankar recently said that the “openness,willingness to learn and the sincere enthusiasm of the western audiences are a continuing source of inspiration and delight”.

I know this, as when in the early 2000, I attended his 80th birthday concert in the Barbican in London, there were mostly Europeans in the audience, with just a few Asians . And when I read that Ravi Shankar who is now in his tenth decade,(92 to be precise), and was on his last tour of the UK ,I knew that I had to go!

We managed to get the tickets,despite the cheapest being £45, they were snapped up and I think we were just in time to get the medium range as the cheaper ones were all sold out. We set out for Birmingham,on Thursday. Virgin trains being in time for once the journey was quite pleasant. It is funny how you meet like minded people everywhere. I remarked,looking out of the train window at some graffiti, where the word “scum” was spelt as “skum”. They can not even spell. I groaned loudly.

The gentleman sitting opposite me,and looking engrossed in his book came to life! No, he said and recounted an episode where he had met a recent graduate of a very “prestigious engineering college” who wrote that he felt so “proud as he are now a graduate”(and yes I did think of Amicus!). He chatted away about books, etc and told us that he used to be in the “wine trade’ and was now retired. By the time his stop came he had passed on some tips and recommendations on choosing wine! And I felt that the world is full of kind and interesting people, only if we go out .

We were staying in an Irish chain of hotels,I have never  had the pleasure of before. It boasted 5 stars, was really plush and had very friendly staff who were mostly Polish! And the food and the breakfast left a lot to desire and the room over looked a dire scene of rooftops and satellite dishes. But it was near the Symphony Hall, just a walk of five minutes ,which was the only bonus.

The concert hall was packed, it seats 2000 people. And it was almost full. When the other accompanying musicians have played the warm up recitals it was time for the Master to appear. A diminutive, frail looking man, with grey hair and a newly acquired beard came and the hall erupted. There was two minute standing ovation. He bowed and took his place. The only concession to his age was that he now sits on a raised chair to play, rather than on the ground, which he did until his 80th birthday.

For the next hour and half he enthralled us with some magical music, his fingers moving with a lightning speed, no sign or age,arthritis or slowing down there. The various tempos, ragas, the playful and dazzling rapid dialogue between the sitar and the percussion enthralled the most uninitiated listener with its interplay.

The whole experience was sensual and beautiful . After the recent upheaval in my life,this was the best thing to restore me to myself. It was for me a life enhancing experience. And looking at all those in the audience who looked like they were from the flower power and the baby boomer generations, it felt like we have captured some of our past energy,while paying a tribute to a genius and being part of the history.

A farewell to a musical genius, something I would never have missed for the world.

Thank you for the gift of your music.

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