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Ravi Shankar, Sukanya Rajan  







Ravi Shankar's life; Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts; General Conversation  

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NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
7 Dec 2004

  • India
  • New Delhi; Chanakyapuri; Ravi Shankar Institute for Music and Performing Arts
  • 28.595   77.178
  • Stereo
    Sampling Rate
  • 48kHz
    Bit Depth
  • 16-bit
    Equipment Note
  • Split Track Stereo

Show: Ravi Shankar, Susan Stamberg
DAT #: 6
Engineer: William McQuay
Date: December 7, 2004

R = Ravi Shankar
SUK = Sukanya Rajan
S = Susan Stamberg
J = Jessica Goldstein
Bill = Bill McQuay

S- family of gorgeous men
SUK- you know his brother who died last year, I was in love with him. His eyes¿
R-he was 12 years older than me
S-the sons, you brothers, look more like your father or your mother?
(whispering behind it)
r- most of them , they say I look more like my mother

[(bill takes a moment to plan)

Susan switches to the other mic side (2:52)]

s- garland
and Ravi means sun

R-and Shankar is the name of Shiva, the holy trinity, you know, Vishnu, Shiva and Ramah? So Shankar is another name
s- a name of the gods, pretty good (closing some doors)

s- I wanted to talk about the relationship with the guru
and how , what it meant when you were a boy. When you decided to go to your guru, you were not a little boy

R- no, actually he joined my brothers troupe and just for one year and Baba Lawd din, and at that time I knew about him. I heard all the famous stories about his violent temper and his being like a child, so sweet, but at time of teaching a student if someone doesn't pick up quickly he goes absolutely bezerk. So all that I had known and I was quite, you know, then he joined us in Bombay just a few days before we left by boat for Europe. This was way back in
November '35. and it was very interesting really, his son, who is two years younger to me, Ali Achbar Khan, he was also to come but in the last moment he said that we was missing his mother, so, because he was terrified of his father.
you know all the time because he was very exacting while teaching, everything he was all the time saying that he doesn't go astray anyway, so he stayed back , so we started our trip and that was the time when my mother had come to see us off.
in Bombay from varanasee (?) and it was very memorable thing for me , just before getting on the plank, going to deport, he was standing all of a sudden my mother became very sentimental ,seeing me go. And she might have had a premonition, because my father, had died about just six months before that and as I have written in my book also, he had died in London, we don't know how he died. Some accident or something happened. So anyway she felt very very sentimental and actually I didn't call him Baba then but my guru, Ustad Alaw Minkad, but started calling him , Baba Lawdin afterwards.
My mother went near him took my hand and put my hand on his hand and she tears in her eyes and said , she also said Baba like that, you know, said Baba his father died just a few months ago and I am not going with him. So please take care of him, he is a naughty boy (little pause, light hearted)

so please take care of him, the moment she said that, you it was like a drama really, he burst out loudly crying, calling her ma, that is mother, ma you are aratnargarba. Aratnagarba is a word, aratna means jewel garba means pregnant, so (quiet horn in the background) he said that you are aratnagarba, you have son like Udeshinka (?) who is like an incarnation of Shiva and uh, your telling this is in it for me, from today and I can see the Robo, that's my nickname, as my elder son. I had one son, now I have two sons.
He was howling and crying, my mother was crying, I was crying, it was such a, you know, I will never forget that whole thing.

s- it was like a religious experience
r- pardon?
s- you are really describing a religious experience?

r- yeah, and then we went on the plank and went to the boat and I saw, slow gradually, my mother disappearing as the boat went away. And that was the last I saw her, and it was after 7-8 months when we were in Paris we got the news that she died in bonanas.

s- here you are 17 years old, you've seen the world.
r- no I was-
s- no no later,
r- I was just fifteen going sixteen
s- but when when you were 17, when you decided to stop the life you had been leading.
r- but previous to that, starting from the moment we were in the boat. After the drama that happened, he was so nice to me. Because I never really had any time with my own father. I never really knew father's love, or anything about having a father because,

R- hardly one day sometimes two days maximum four days, all together I may not have seen 28 days in my life.

Anyway, so the relationship became very strong, all of a sudden starting on the boat. And he started teaching me, and he told me he knew that I was playing tharoat, the flute, banging the drums, and also a bowed instrument called the esrod. And he said look, you have tremendous talent, but in this way I was a dancer. to top it all and to him it was something he did not like. You see you have all the talent but this way you will be like jack of all trade and master of none.

s- he was afraid you were scattering your talent?
s- he thought you should focus
r- yeah, but I couldn't do that of course because still he started teaching me from the boat itself. So my training started already. So naturally we traveled going to Israel, Egypt and all Eastern Europe and gradually going to Paris and ending up in Dartington hall in devonshare.

11:50 And all this time I was like his guide, because he could not speak English (clothing rustle), he was so frightened that they will serve pork or anything he even left eating chicken or mutton which he used to and became a totally vegetarian. So I had to be all the time looking after him. I found him to be such a great person. He was so temperamental. He would cry at any beautiful thing he saw at the same time get angry at very little things. Very temperamental. One incident I like to say, in Brussels, in the cathedral (car horn in the background quiet), it must have been Sunday morning I think, there were lot of choral music going on, (car horn a bit louder) organ playing and when we entered there after some time on the right side there was a beautiful statue of Mary and Baba, my guru, he just went in front of it. And all of a sudden he went hollering "maama" you know, loudly, I mean at church you know?
it was such a problem for us to stop him he got so emotional . so that is something for the first time for me to realize that being a Muslim and a very staunch Muslim, in that in the sense that he did his five times namas all day and in the he went to see all the religious place in Jerusalem
s- for his Hajj
r- for his hajj and everything and he later on he went to Hajj also but at the same time, unlike any other person I had ever seen. He had all the respect for Jesus Christ and Mary for all the Hindu gods like Krishna
S- he was a spiritual man
(She moves him along.)

S-You are talking about a man of great spirituality, he spoke to you about music being sacred didn't he?
R- absolutely
s- tell us this
R- to him he said that we have to earn our livelihood. And for that we have to perform in front and accept money but music is not for sale, the music that I have learned and I want to give, is something, is like worshipping, like worshipping god. It's absolutely like a prayer

(MICS moving around?!)

and he himself was so much into this belief (MICS back on track)
that whenever he performed he made a mess out of everything because he was so anxious.

(MICS moving again)
he want to perform and he really (MIC back on track)

not a good performer in this sense. Maybe he was in his youth he was much better, but honestly, whenever he played alone or he was teaching me. He made us cry, he could bring tears within two minutes

s- are there recordings of his music
r- yes some are not bad but I mean it doesn't give him
s- it doesn't do justice to him
r- violin with left hand, he played everything including all western instruments
s- who was it who said sound is god?
r- well it is an old word, naa de bramah, which means sound is god. And he believed in that absolutely and so do I

S-that when you make music you are making a prayer to god, yes?
R- absolutely that is something which we start at least in the beginning, its like invocation and that part is just like a prayer but of course when we are performing in places I have to think of that I am entertaining people who have bought tickets and there is a time limit. I have to finish it.
within one and a half hour or have an intermission and then¿ so I have been very at that because of my experience working with all India radio and my experience all the time watching
s- watching the clock¿

r- so I have built in clock in me
s- excuse me Pandachi, perhaps you are not right. I understand that last night, and here you are in your 80's last night you performed for four hours.
r- that
SUK- he's performed for thirteen hours¿

(Susan laughs)
r- my record is continuous thirteen hours
(Susan laughs)
r- but this time it was because I was in Bombay and I had absolutely musicians mostly and real music level so I was inspired, I couldn't help (he laughs) though she was giving me all the signs.

all laughs
R-she was concerned about my health
SUK-I want him to last longer

s- I read so many things you wrote about when you performed in the west. When the west discovered so much about Indian music thanks to you and going to Woodstock, playing in Monterey Woodstock, we can talk about that another time, but just that whole drug scene, which I know you hated
R- absolutely, because you know this whole new world was something I had not known I had heard of vaguely, I knew of beatniks, (mouth noise Susan?)
many of them in San Francisco, earlier, late fifties and that period

S- jack keroac and alan ginsberg (she lists)
R- many many of them painters and they were already achievers they were already known. And I had heard Aldus Huxley and many like that but uh,
R- this was something that a shock to me seeing starting from 13 and 14years girls and boys and young ones being so much drawn to drugs the whole thing was very shocking for me and Monterey was the first experience I had had. And that is why (car horn quiet) I did not want to perform in between any I said I am not going to perform. So they were agreeable to give me a slot in the afternoon, nothing before and nothing after. So that was wonderful, though I had in the audience, many of them were stoned and all that, (Susan snickers) but on the whole it was so wonderful. Everything worked nicely and I played one of my best performances I think. And people like jimmy Hendrix and so many famous people in the rock and pop world were sitting there and it was wonderful.

and at that time I found along with the drugs and everything there was some innocence, and they said "peace, love" and gave you flowers I felt there was some genuine feeling behind that but by the time I saw Woodstock, as I said, that was gone. It was far too much. Into drugs and being stoned to enjoy music or enjoy anything, to meditate, to say "ohm" or everything was you know truly drugs and that was what I did not, and I spoke against that all the time

S- I asked you about that now because we were talking about music as a prayer to god and I wish you would tell , when you are really playing really communicating, how you feel inside, its not so unlike, so I am told, the way people with drugs would feel. But you don't need drugs for that

R- absolutely, that is what I told them again and again, please give me a chance. And you don' need drugs, you will feel high and many of them who did not take drugs they always said that themselves. That our music can bring them to that state, to whatever you call it, spiritual feeling relaxed completely, some people feel very sad they have tears in their eyes, some feel romantic nostalgic but whatever they feel they go very deep into it, without the drugs.

S- I think great art always transports us
22:25 R- absolutely,
s- to another and a higher state
r - anything visual, even paintings, folk music can do that even classical music can do that, you know it has that power, whatever term you may use, spiritual feeling sad or feeling very relaxed, your eyes close, you just feel very high without the drugs
s- now take us back to this village you go to study with Baba. Tell what your day was like for you there.

R- in the beginning it was so difficult for me, you know, what a difference from all the five star hotels and I was used to with traveling with my brother in the west going to that remote place with all the mosquitoes flies, cockroaches and even snakes passing through your room, going out and in, it was very very difficult.

R- but I had tremendous willpower really, I praise myself for , because having gone through all the comforts, fun and pleasure, being 18 years old, it was difficult for me but because I had that strong will, 6 months
24:10to 8 month get used to all (MIC AGAIN DISRUPTED) that and I was in the groove then and with Baba's training and he was really so nice to me

R-in the beginning very beginning hardly 3months or 4months after I had been there, one day he was giving me a particular piece to play where combination of the right hand and left hand was very very complicated and I was not just getting it right. Usually I got everything very quickly, that is why he was never angry with me. But that day he got a (rising anger and then total calm) bit impatient, and he said go and wear bangles.

I mean that is an expression, to say your wrist is not strong enough, you are like a girl (MIC POPS AGAIN) 25:05 go wear bangles

s- Susan laughs
R- and that was enough for me.
25:10 so you go and practice that.(MIC IS RIGHT AGAIN)
He used to get angry with me and then go and beat up some other people. And if he didn't get anyone, he would beat up a stray dog or something. He was
(Susan shocked "Aye")

R- he was he went mad like that.
S- if his son didn't get it right
r- he tied him to a tree for two three days!
S- and beat him
r- and beat him up. He was a terror I tell you¿but on the whole. After he told me that I was so tossed. I had never been scolded by my brothers or any of that. I immediately started packing and wanted to take the train the next morning. So Ali Achbar came to meet me, he said come Ma has asked us to have lunch. So I went there but I didn't know how to say goodbye to Baba, but they said please call him for dinner. That was the pretext that I should go and meet him.
R- and when I went in, he just started crying you know, because he was putting a picture of mine in a frame (Jessica says oh quietly in the background). He says you see this and you want to leave me you don't remember what your mother told me? And that was the end of it. But from that day onward he never scolded me even if he was angry with me, he would beat up someone else (chuckles) and get it out of his system.
s- complicated person, complicated personality.
You stayed seven years?

R_ almost 7 years, and counting the year when he was touring with us I had and then the next 10-15 years I would go there for a month or two months, so that continued for a long time.

S- do you think you would be the musician you are today if you had not gone there for that time?
R_ I don't think so, because at that time I was torn between dance mainly and very much into painting and very much into writing songs, poetry and all that. And you know sometimes you get spoiled when everyone praises you .whatever I did they said "oh! Wonderful" so I don't know I don't think I would have been anything really.

s- he helped you to concentrate on the one thing.
r- absolutely.

s- but you, your life, has been all that creativity pouring out of you/
r- I had that urge of creativity and thinking creative things all the time
s- you still do!
r- I still do.
s- now you're going to start a jazz group
r- I am guilty of that.
I have always thought of you know, I mean I feel so bad saying it myself, before all this system of performance. Especially in the north Indian Hindustani style, it was very different because it was all under the patronage of the royalties and the aristocrats so they didn't care about public the musicians, they thought they were idiots, they performed only for my boss who understands music.

R- so with that attitude with all this royalties, after the impendence finished these musicians all had to come to the big cities, they were so maladraw innove, they didn't know how to perform sitting on the, they would cough they would talk, they would smoke or you know, it was really very crude, you know what I mean, most of them, not all, most of them were like the old jazz musicians, who were great people, but you wouldn't want to call them to your home and have a cup of tea with them.

you know what I mean,
S- yes
R- because they were all addicted to alcohol or drugs or full of ego. Not educated.
s- but your contribution was to raise the level
r- that is what I wanted to do and there is why I consider my brother a guru of mine, because it is being with him all these years that I knew stage, light, décor, punctuality, how to behave how to look, when to stop and not bore people. All these things I started introducing, the platform, the way of sitting, the incense burning, the whole thing. And that has become now the usual, everybody does that.

S- tell about the platform. What your thinking was?
R- well because we don't sit on a chair, unlike the western musician, when we sit on the stage from public viewpoint, it's not right. So that
(SUK says something?)
even if we sit, we visually its much better

s- everyone can see you, you are raised?
r- exactly
s- but also, you darkened the edges
r- absolutely, that is one thing to focus, specially in India, many students of music they sit on the stage also. And it becomes such a messy thing, when the light is one everyone and you see someone "ahh" yawning or you see someone (Susan chuckles)doing this or doing that, so I started darkening the whole, only light on the platform.

SUK- the carpet, flying carpet
r- and the carpet, special carpet, it looks like I am sitting on a flying carpet. Yeah, these are things I really introduced. Which have become now a general thing which everybody is ¿
s- yeah.

s- and also you made it your mission to elevate the status of the musicians in India, but then also to bring this music West. Why was this so important to you?

R- absolutely. Because I was the first one I took the whole responsibility on myself because at that time most of the musicians, almost all of them were not capable to explain anything or they didn't have the sense of proportion, how long they should play and you know all that. I was lucky in having all the experience with my brother. That is why I took the responsibility upon myself and played all over Europe the states and eventually south America Australia, everywhere for years and years and it was only then after ten years or so 11years that I met George Harrison and he become my student. And that started the second phase because all of a sudden all of the young generation became interested. But again, as I said earlier, they become interested but they took it as a pop music because George Harrison's guru, they came with the same flippant attitude they came listening, whistling, eating yeah, yeah and all that sort of thing. And you know, a lot of things went on there (laughs) so¿that was a difficult period for almost 4-5 years to bring that under control.

s- you felt they were being disrespectful because your was classical music, not popular music.

R- that is what I used to tell them all the time. You don't go like this when you go to hear any concert of Bach or Beethoven or Mozart? So why do you take it for granted that you have to be high and behave like this. And many places I walked out with my sitar and all that gradually got a lot of young audience for me, but those who stayed they are still there and now that things finished, they don't come like that to my concert.
And I don't perform in big rock concerts like that anymore.

s- you are more careful of where you perform?
r- yeah.
s- also you take a lot of criticism back here for¿
r- oh my god (max out the volume?) you can say that again. Here while I was fighting with this kids in the sense and trying to put my music on that pedestal and whatever, here people were criticizing me especially the musicians, that I have become Americanized, jazzifying my music, a sacrilege and all that. I become one of the Beatles, a number of things and it was really hurtful for a couple of years but gradually that down and of course that finished. All those same musicians who were criticizing me, they started going (Susan chuckles) they found thanks to me, good audience, everywhere they were going and performing. And many of them ended up settling there. So those things are gone now.

S- but you waited you waited it out, didn't you? , you just took your time about their criticism.

r- yes there was no sense in fighting or giving counter interviews. And I had to suffer for a few years but then it gradually died down.

s- do you , are there young people in India today who at the age of 18 would give up their lives to go to a small village someplace, who would go to study classical music?

R- there might be some real crazy crazy I mean crazy for music, (Susan, oh) young people but they definitely don't belong to large cities. But somehow maybe they don't get the chance or maybe they don't find the right guru. You know, but still you do find that sort of people are¿only in remote places, smaller places

s- what do you think the implications of that are for your music, I don't just mean your music, for classical although that's the same thing, for classical Indian music.
r- for the last 3-4 years, things have changed very rapidly. The whole onslaught of television, rock and light music, Bollywood music, everything is so much focused it has really taken all the young peoples attention to such an extent that it is a bit alarming to tell you the truth. We still have fantastic young talents and some of them are already performing and they have all the possibilities, but then there comes the other problem, we are having for the last 30-40 years, a lot of these sponsorships from these big houses, you know, cigarette company or even liquor company, cold drink company, biscuit company or even some banks. And they were really shelling out a lot of money for big music festivals for the promoters they got help. This sense, it all coming in the same time. In the last 3-4 years it has stopped. And they are shelling out music only for this fashion you know
s- they are not giving this support (she speaks over him)

R- so only special shows, and all of a sudden it has dried up completely and for the sponsors, doing fantastic work at Indian programs, music festivals, they call it music conferences here. They are in great trouble.
Musicians of course, as everything else, have raised their fees, and people complain we can't afford but now we are trying as best as possible to meet. Because our Indian government has really done a lot for our music and all different arts. I don't think any country I can think of except in the past, (Susan whispering behind) communist countries, they did it, but they can't do any more than that. They are having a lot of functions trying to through the academy and different orgs. These big houses, like in the states and Europe.
I have been told that operas, symphonies and ballets are still going through problems.
(Susan speaks over him, he ignores her and goes on)

R-But the proportion is still better. But you have the advantage of that all the business houses or British people are really donating so much money and because of that so much- just the other day we heard, how much? 100 in San Diego?
SUK- Irvin Jacobs gave to the San Diego symphony.
s- and Mrs. Kroc gave money also. Did you ever know her. In San Diego?
Mrs. McDonalds. We got 200 million dollars from her in her will.

R- there are so many rich people but unfortunately that many of them are giving only for fusion music or fashion shows.
s- so the young people who could become musician are not.
r- most of the young people are feeling like what's the use of this, and they are going for fusion.

s- yeah, so this is very difficult for you,
r- I am very much worried. I am trying to talk as much as possible and trying meeting musicians and the big houses, I am trying.
s- and also why the center¿

SUK- this is it, this is the purpose of the center.
r- without any help
SUK- we can't run it, we need help, to maintain it and run it. We've sponsored them to come over from the states.
s- you brought them over? They don't pay any tuition fees?
SUK- they don't pay anything, we brought them over, we paid their fares we brought them here, they live here, they eat here, they have free lessons but if someone started it we'd be happy to do it.
s- but this is your investment in the future of classical music?

R- hopefully so, but we have to have a help now financially to run any institution is no joke.
s- you need an endowment
SUK- I want to build a corpus fund for this place so then we don't need to worry it will keep taking place of the place.

s- but surely businesses here will see that this part of the heritage of India?
You hope, right you hope
SUK- I hope. Hope so.
s- I wonder how you say that in Hindi, your lips to god's ears? Ah you make music (laughter) you get out your sitar (laughter)

BREAK (scheduling)
SUK- Susan I really want us to, you know this is a chance for us to say it with so many millions of listeners. Maybe someone will be listening somewhere. We want to be able to say it (Susan affirms and understands) and I want to be able to say somewhere that we need help.

r- with all our sincerity that you see.
SUK- sees we have a foundation there, through the foundation
r-our life has to be put there
SUK- tax relief, but we have to have help. And there are so many talented kids and it would be such a shame to lose them because of this financial thing.
s- of course


55:04 moving downstairs
55:52 squeaky door (SUK speaks)
56:06 door shuts 56:40 squeaky ends, just AMBI

57:54 (elevator or sliding walls, rattle)
58:20 wheels over floor smooth (bookcases sliding)

58:50 file cabinets? And key-type sound
footsteps and move into another room
florescent buzz 59:39

Bill- first we were in the archive room and then
SUK- Were in the lobby and then another locker, and just make sure there is no sound.

1:00:44 AMBI
computer room 1:01:29 out

1:01:43 dining room
AMBI 1:01:53-1:02:11 (door opens) 1:02:44

Kitchen AMBI
rattling 1:04:43 (kitchen sounds)

moving away from kitchen into another room, several different doors close
1:05:29-1:07:05 (outdoor location on the lower level)
footsteps 1:07:22 walking somewhere else

1:08:05-1:08:56 (birds and studio construction in background)

1:09:29 walking steps to somewhere outdoors?
Stonework conversation AMBI
1:10:17-1:11:45 (a little bit of sweeping sound)

1:12:35 (outdoors ambi, birds, bus passing 1:13:48 )

room outside the outdoor concert hall

auditorium/concert hall indoors

1:17:16 outside to in through the door 1:17:42

1:19:01- 1:19:58 quilt room?

Balcony/ Romeo and Juliet


1:23:00-1:23:46 (whisper)
continue "ground floor"
1:24:23 END

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