The world swears by Ravi Shankar's skills with the sitar. How many has heard him render classical vocals?
But on a shelf of a home in Narendrapur, in the southern fringes of Kolkata, stands 15 audio cassettes containing the maestro's vocal renditions.
They are the lessons he imparted over a span of 16 years, said Samaresh Chowdhury, 57, who trained under Ravi Shankar between 1984 and 2000.
“I’m his only vocalist student. And he taught me the nuances of rendition by singing himself. He would use the sitar to explain only the critical areas of a composition,” Chawdhury said, playing some of the cassettes. “Ravi Shankar had a soft and adorable voice. It was a lifetime’s experience.”
Some of the sessions lasted for six to eight hours. "My first day of solo training, in 1987, comprised two six-hour sessions with a two-hour break,” recalled the vocalist, whose first guru was his father Sangeetacharya Amaresh Chandra Chawdhary, a musician of repute.
It was also his father who advised him to train under Ravi Shankar.
Chawdhary had got to know Ravi Shankar during the Dover Lane music conference of 1980.
“On many occasions between ’80 and ’83, he arranged for my session just before his,” said Chawdhary. Finally in 1984, Ravi Shankar accepted him as his disciple.
Chawdhary still cannot forget a phone call in 1995 that woke him up from an afternoon nap. The voice at the other end was of Ravi Shankar's.
“He had taught a composition on Raga Gunji Kanada. The raga and the composition was his creation. But somehow, he had forgotten the composition and asked me to sing it over phone. The session went on for 45 minutes, until he remembered it,” Chawdhury recalled.
Sometimes, Ravi Shankar used to sing while teaching the instrument too. “But perhaps I heard him the most, since I was taking vocal lessons,” he said.
Chawdhary had more than 15 cassettes, but some got damaged and some were lost when he changed house. Now, he wants to digitise the ones that have survived.