It was March 1, 2008. Between a month's delay, a change of venue for the Ravi Shankar - Anoushka Shankar concert and juggling a hundred other things, it could have been a very forgettable day for Vandana Gopikumar. And yet, the day remains etched in The Banyan founder's memory thanks to a particular conversation she had, "It's still very clear in my mind," she says crisply, "After Pandit Ravi Shankar, Anoushka and his wife Sukanya arrived in Chennai for the show, I thought I would tell him about what kind of work we (The Banyan) did with mentally ill women." Much to her pleasant surprise, the then 88-year-old maestro was particularly interested in the story of one of the ill women they had treated and restored with her family, 'How is she now? Doing well?', he asked her. "There was this child-like friendliness about him that was simply surprising," she says and adds, "There are plenty of people who think a lot about themselves when they perform for a 'cause' or for an 'organisation', but here was a legend who cared about one single woman's well-being. That was heart-warming."
The sitar 'pandit', who did not recover from a heart-valve replacement surgery, passed away at a hospital in Southern California on December 11. And in all of his 92 years of life, Ravi Shankar left a lasting impact on quite a few people in the city - an impact that is as unlikely to fade away as his music.
The jam-packed concert in 2008 for The Banyan's Basant Utsav, was the last time that he performed in the city. "It was our tenth year and we wanted a legend like him to perform. With a lot of confidence, we called his wife and asked about whether he would be able to do the show," recounts Vandana. They agreed. Despite his being 'indisposed' to perform on the original concert date - February 9 - he ensured that he was stringed up and ready to perform, a month later.
"Though the hall was full, I went and spoke to him after the concert, that day," says playback singer Vani Jairam, who sang 12 out of 13 tracks in the 1979 movie Meera, for which Ravi Shankar composed the music. Having met the sitar-player through her husband, a sitar player himself, she remembers him as a "simple and jovial person who never made anyone feel uncomfortable."
His humility is something both women list as one of his endearing traits. At the Lady Andal auditorium, he made no bravado about being helped on stage in his shimmering gold kurta, while Anoushka heralded his entry with her mastery. Vani relates how she once called him and congratulated him after listening to one of his records - such was his humility, that he answered 'I am so happy you called ... Thank You.'
As tributes and memories flow in fast and thick for the man whom George Harrison, The Beatle, described as the 'Godfather of World Music', perhaps the most succint one was given by AR Rahman, when he tweeted, "Indian classical music has lost it's chief ambassador and India it's Bharat Ratna..May God bless his soul!"
(With inputs from Janani Sampath)