Sitar maker says Ravi Shankar’s legacy in­spires other mu­si­cians

Austin American-Statesman - - CLASSIFIEDS - By Muneeza Naqvi In­dian tra­di­tional in­stru­ment crafts­man San­jay Sharma places a fret on a sitar at his store Riki Ram’s Mu­sic in New Delhi. KEVIN Frayer / as­so­ci­ated PRESS contributed by ama­zon

NEW DELHI — The walls of San­jay Sharma’s mu­sic shop are lined with gleam­ing string in­stru­ments and old pho­to­graphs of leg­endary mu­si­cians.

Bea­tles Ge­orge Har­ri­son, John Len­non and Paul McCart­ney. In­dian classicial mu­si­cians Zakir Hus­sain, Shiv Ku­mar Sharma and Vish­wamo­han Bhatt. And the man who brought th­ese two very dif­fer­ent mu­si­cal worlds to­gether: Ravi Shankar.

Like his grand­fa­ther and fa­ther be­fore him, Sharma built, tuned and re­paired in­stru­ments for the sitar vir­tu­oso, who in­tro­duced Western­ers to In­dian clas­si­cal mu­sic, and through his friend­ship with Har­ri­son be­came a main­stay of the 1960s coun­ter­cul­ture scene.

From his tiny shop tucked into the crowded lanes of cen­tral Delhi’s Bha­gat Singh mar­ket, Sharma trav­eled the world with Shankar. Late in the mae­stro’s life, as his health and strength flagged, he even de­signed a smaller ver­sion of the in­stru­ment that al­lowed him to keep play­ing.

Shankar, who died Dec. 11 at age 92, was “a saint, an em­peror and lord of mu­sic,” Sharma says in a trib­ute posted to the web­site of his sought-af­ter shop, Rikhi Ram’s Mu­sic.

“When I opened my eyes there was him,” says Sharma, 44, sur­rounded by dis­play cases full of sitars, sarangis (a stringed in­stru­ment played with a vi­o­lin­like bow), gui­tars, tabla drums and sar­ods, a deeply res­onat­ing in­stru­ment played by pluck­ing the strings.

Shankar “was mu­sic and mu­sic was him,” he says.

Sharma’s grand­fa­ther started the busi­ness in 1920 in the north­ern city of La­hore, now in Pak­istan. He met a young Ravi Shankar at a con­cert there in the 1940s. Fol­low­ing the In­dia-Pak­istan par­ti­tion and the re­lo­ca­tion of the shop to New Delhi, the fam­ily be­gan mak­ing sitars for Shankar in the 1950s.

By then, the mu­si­cian was al­ready fa­mous in In­dia and be­gin­ning to col­lab­o­rate with some of the greats of West­ern mu­sic, in­clud­ing vi­o­lin­ist Ye­hudi Menuhin and jazz sax­o­phon­ist John Coltrane.

The Bea­tles vis­ited in 1966 and bought in­stru­ments, memo­ri­al­ized in some of the many pho­to­graphs that line the shop’s walls. An­other shows Shankar’s daugh­ter and the heir of his sitar legacy, Anoushka Shankar. But there is no pic­ture of an­other Shankar daugh­ter, Amer­i­can singer No­rah Jones, who was es­tranged from her fa­ther.

Sharma’s own fa­ther suc­ceeded his grand­fa­ther as the sup­plier of Shankar’s sitars. And then Sharma him­self in the 1980s.

The bed­room-sized shop has two coun­ters, one for con­duct­ing busi­ness and one for work­ing on in­stru­ments un­der the beam of a large work lamp. Wood shav­ings and dust cover the floor of a work­shop at the back.

As he chat­ted with vis­it­ing As­so­ci­ated Press jour­nal­ists on Thurs­day, Sharma worked on a sitar, peer­ing through his glasses as he used a mal­let to ham­mer in a new fret. He plucked the strings, and as the sound res­onated around the room, he leaned close in to the in­stru­ment and lis­tened in­tently to the vi­bra­tions. Sat­is­fied with the re­sults, he moved on to the next fret.

It takes 15 months for a sitar to be ready for use. The ac­tual craft­ing of the in­stru­ment from red cedar and hol­lowed-out, dried pump­kins takes three months. Then, it is left un­touched to go through what is called “Delhi sea­son­ing,” in which the ex­tremes of New Delhi’s cli­mate — blis­ter­ing sum­mer, fol­lowed by a brief mon­soon, and a near-freez­ing, three­month win­ter — work their magic.

In 2005, a se­ri­ous bout of pneu­mo­nia left Shankar with a frozen left shoul­der.

“He was grow­ing old and he wanted to ex­per­i­ment and change the in­stru­ment” so he could con­tinue play­ing, Sharma says.

Sharma, a large, bald­ing man, cre­ated what he calls the “stu­dio sitar,” a smaller ver­sion of the in­stru­ment. But hold­ing it was still dif­fi­cult. So Sharma went to a Home De­pot near Shankar’s San Diego, Cal­i­for­nia-area home and bought some sup­plies to build a de­tach­able stand.

The mu­si­cian was thrilled. Sharma says Shankar told him, “Your fa­ther was a bril­liant sitar maker, but you are a ge­nius.”

Shankar was per­form­ing in pub­lic un­til a month be­fore his death. De­spite ill health, he ap­peared re-en­er­gized by the mu­sic, Sharma said.

“We are los­ing the orig­i­nal­ity and the core of our In­dian mu­sic,” says Shankar, him­self a trained Hin­dus­tani clas­si­cal mu­si­cian who plays the sitar and tabla, the In­dian pair­drums.

At the same time, Shankar’s work as a global am­bas­sador of mu­sic has borne fruit, Sharma says: “Be­cause the mu­sic has gone to the West, we’re get­ting lots of new mu­si­cal as­pi­rants from the West­ern coun­tries.”

When jazz artist Her­bie Han­cock was in New Delhi a few years ago, he stopped by Sharma’s shop to buy a sitar.

And in one of the shop’s dis­play win­dows gleams a newly crafted sitar made of teak.

“That,” Sharma said, “is for Bill Gates.”

Ama­zon launches a sub­scrip­tion ser­vice for chil­dren’s books and soft­ware on tablet de­vices.

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