Delhi music shop connects Pt Shankar, Harrison

New Delhi: Legendary sitar maestro and composer Ravi Shankar did not just play strings but also virtually connected three cultures, three continents and three legends together, albeit with a little help from a small music shop here.

Rikhi Ram and Sons, located in the Connaught Place market in central Delhi, not only crafted sitars for the late music icon and his daughter Anushka Shankar but also for his friend The Beatles's star musician George Harrison. They also had produced a made-to-order sitar especially for the 1968 cult classic comedy film "The Party", which starred British actor-singer Peter Sellers.

 
"Guruji was a regular visitor at our shop. It was like family and from the late 80s he had been using our sitars crafted especially for him," said Ajay Sharma, grandson of the founder and current owner of the shop told PTI.

Sharma says the famed English rock band "The Beatles" visited their shop in 1966 while they were returning from their Tokyo concert. "They bought a sitar but also some other instruments and my father had some privileged time with them,"  says Sharma.

"But, our most dubious distinction would be the sitar which my father made for the Hollywood movie 'The Party' and in fact after the movie Peter Sellers sent him a letter pointing out the exact scene where he plays it," says Sharma.

The shop displays old photographs of Panditiji, The Beatles visit to Delhi, among several others. "Peter Sellers was friends with the late musician and The Beatles and our shop name must have figured in their conversations," Sharma conjectures.

"Well, that was Ravi Shankar. He not only connected cultures through his music but spanned and bridged different continents literally on his string," he adds. Pulling out  well-kept old albums from behind polished wooden cabinets, he says a flood of memories kept rushing back and he could remember the human, the humble, the proud and the humours side, among others of Ravi Shankar which he believed the world hardly knows of.

"Once, while I visited him for instrument-servicing at his 95, Lodhi Estate house here, he asked me to drive him for shoe shopping. And, he wore moccasins. So, we went around South Extesnion market and later at the Khan Market where they asked for his shoe size but he just wouldn't tell despite repeatedly being asked," says Sharma cracking up with laughter while recalling the incident.

Eventually Sharama managed to get him a custom-made shoe from the "John Brothers" shop. "He may have had small feet but it was enough for him to span the universe," Sharma says. The shopkeeper says he had learned so much from the life of Guriji, as he fondly called Pandit Ravi Shankar, but added that audiences merely see the persona but are ignorant of the efforts that a musician undertakes for his performance.

"I had accompanied him during one of his tours abroad once where he developed some heart trouble and had to be put on intravenous feed. The concert was after three days and he stayed overnight the day before the concert and the next day in the evening he not only enthralled the crowd but also received a standing ovation," says
Sharma.

"After the performance, I saw his hands. It was all swollen and I could empathise with how much pain musicians go through for their dreams. But he said in a triumphant manner -'This is Ravi Shankar'," Sharma recalls.

The shop owner says Ravi Shankar had once told him "Ajay, God has blessed me with lot of energy but my heart pulls me back". Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away on December 11 this year in the US of heart failure. Rikhi Ram and Sons family originally from Lahore started their business in 1920 and later after shifted to India after Partition.

"I've been to his San Diego house and we were shocked to receive the message of his passing away. My first thought was- all the sitars in the world are gently weeping," Ajay said as he flipped through one of the albums titled '1998 trip with Guruji'.

"I have grown up in front of him and seen the many phases of his life. And, he symbolised a syncretic culture where east indeed meets the west unlike the 'boxing ourselves in' culture which has set in today," Sharma says as he tuned a guitar with equal ease.

"Our association with the Shankars is long and enduring. In 1965, my father devised an all wooden Tamboori to replace the huge Tanpuras which Panditji used to complain about. These easy-to-carry Tambooris are used today by all the musicians," Sharma told PTI.