Way back in 1955, when I was an All India Radio artist in Hyderabad, I was introduced to Guruji as ‘a local artist.’ I heard Ravi Shankar live for the first time in 1955, when he came to Hyderabad for a Sangeet Sammelan concert. He promised to listen to me during his next visit to the city. He fulfilled his promise when he listened to me playing. He said “You seem to play more advanced things without learning basics, like where to put a front-stroke or a back-stroke.” In all my innocence, I replied Namaskaram, this is where I need a guru. He just said “Ok”. And this was the turning point of my life. He told me very graciously to come to Delhi. I went to Delhi in 1956 as his disciple. I also went to Benaras several times where he used to take classes for 10 days every year. In 1983, I assisted Guruji in a concert in IIT-Madras in which Zakir bhai (Ustaad Zakir Husain) had performing alongside Guruji.
He had an excellent way of teaching students according to their needs. The moment he started teaching, new vistas opened up for students. He was very strict and tough while teaching. Since I was already playing when I met him, we never had a ‘guru-shishya parampara’. My training was on and off and he corrected me whenever necessary. This played an important role in my transition from an amateur to professional. He always used to say ‘Sangeet mein kabhi beimaani nahin karni chahiye (one shouldn’t be dishonest in music)’. Being a traditionalist, he advised his students to not to compromise with the musicality. After rigorous teaching sessions, he was very friendly to his students. He not only taught us about us music but also about the mannerisms. He never had regular classes because of his busy schedule. As late as in 2003 ‘Guruji’ took a special class for only seven students. I recall Guruji telling us that even though we have been performing professionally for a few years then, he wanted to point out certain elements in our music that needed to be corrected.
I consider him as an ‘Avataarpurush’. He brought dignity and acceptability of Indian musicians in India and abroad. While doing it, he collaborated with a lot of musicians without compromising with his music. He used to research about a lot of ragas that were and performed them in his concerts. When he was music director in All India Radio, for one year he played a rare raga every week.
(As told to Ankit Agrawal)