Saturday, August 18, 2007

Rikhi Ram


For almost 18 years now, I have been frequenting an amazing musical instrument store in Delhi called "Rikhi Ram". What was astounding to me is that Sanjay, Rikhi's great-grandson, still remembers me. First thing he says when I walk into the shop is, "Ravi-ji (Pandit Ravi Shankar) hasn't been here in one and a half years... he's not traveling to India now."

Sanjay is a master instrument builder, which many consider to be the "Martin" guitar version of the sitar, tambura and sarod. I learn of Rikhi Ram's passing this past spring at age 78 and recall how gracious he always was. We talk of hanging out with Ravi, Sukanya, Anoushka, George, Olivia and Dhani backstage at the Barbican in London in July of '98. Sanjay and I were both there along with the late (and wonderful) book publisher Brian Roylance.

I ended up playing many of the stringed instruments in the shop while we traded gossip on various Indian musicians. While I pluck away, he builds the bridge on a sitar. He asks about Zakir & Ali Akbhar Khan and we discuss Alla Rakha. There is a big picture of Nikhil Banerjhee on the wall which spurns me into gushing about what unique emotional sensibilities he had as a musician. Sanjay smiles and nods in agreement, "He was one of a kind."

We spent the rest of the time trying to plan out a half-scale guitar/sarod hybrid. And as I switch to the funky half scale guitar, I begin bastardizing Felix Mendelssohn (I've been on a classical kick lately)... I switch to trying to play Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #3.

Rikhi Ram's shop is a legacy amongst all the great Indian classical musicians. I'm prompted to recall the great story that Rikhi Ram-ji told me many years ago when The Beatles came into the very shop which I am sitting. They had just returned from their disastrous appearance in the Philippines in 1966 and were routed through India on the way back for 2 days. Two black Cadillac limos pull up and out step the Fabs themselves.

The window was lined with curious seekers who are not quite sure who these guys were. There's the famous set of photos on the wall documenting this momentous occasion and Sanjay insists that I photograph the pictures to share with friends back home. It felt damn great to be surrounded by such a warm and familiar place in Delhi's sea of chaos, let alone having a chance to spend a few hours entertaining the master craftsman with my infernal tootling while he builds master works of art. Extreme silliness indeed...

5 comments:

gizard said...

Tell us that you're not in Hyderabad please.

zoe krylova said...

hey you. i tagged you for a "meme". i know it might not be what you want to waste time doing from an internet cafe. but being on the road is always a good time to reflect. rules are on my blog.

Songs & Stories From The Edge said...

sorry about the delay zoe, I was blocked the entire time in china. gimme a minute or so to get this to you...

many apologies!

Songs & Stories From The Edge said...

And yes, I was briefly in Hyderabad... tis a silly place.

Kim said...

I am interested in working with you to use a version of this essay for the "To North India With Love" guidebook in the To Asia With Love guidebook series. If you are interested, please contact me at tawl@thingsasian.com. Best, Kim Fay, Senior Editor, ThingsAsian Press