I have to take out some insurance here, though. I did not see Fox’s footage myself. They apparently pulled it double-quick after a small tsunami of protest hit Twitter. Not sure what set it off, the bizarre image switch or the manner in which Pandit Ravi Shankar had been identified, as “the Beatles’ sitarist.” He did not deserve that crabby little appellation.
MTV similarly tried to bump off Ravi Shankar, the guru, in an online tribute to the Pandit but hey, they’re a music channel. They’re capable of anything. But mercifully, they referred to Pandit Ravi Shankar as a “Beatles influence”, which is a lot more accurate than Fox’s reading.
The tributes to Ravi Shankar suggested that he had single-handedly brought Indian classical music to Western audiences. That’s problematic, suggesting that the Carnatic tradition is unimportant, the success of Shakti and AR Rahman notwithstanding. Besides, it would be fairer to say that he was the most successful among a lot of performers who played in the West at the time. His own accompanist Alla Rakha made a considerable impression on US percussionists and elevated the tabla to the level of a solo instrument.
But Western media did not seem to be very aware of the man who took Indian music out there. Almost all channels clutched at the Beatles lifeline, though the Fab Four connection was only a small but crucial segment in a long career. In India, the recordings with Yehudi Menuhin had always seemed more interesting than stories of Monterey and Woodstock. In the coverage overseas, there was little appreciation of Ravi Shankar as a performer and surprisingly, no mention of his contribution to film music — the cinema of Satyajit Ray and Sir Richard Attenborough. The BBC did rather well, though, dwelling on the first phase of Shankar’s career overseas, as a teenager in Paris with Uday Shankar’s troupe, when his family got to know Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter and classical guitarist Andres Segovia. Little details that even Ravi Shankar’s Indian fans may not know of.
We must now descend from Pandit Ravi Shankar to BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad. From the sublime to the clever. For this week, it would be criminal to neglect the story of how the BJP, having been diddled by the Congress in the House on the question of FDI in retail, tried to catch up in Arnab Goswami’s TV studio by attacking Walmart for a routine declaration of lobbying expenses to the US Senate.
Ravi Shankar Prasad opened aggressively: “The cat is out of the bag. Disclosure in America but investment is being made in India to persuade the lifting of the gate to FDI in multibrand.” But that was a hard corner to get painted into, so he changed his tune to: “If payments are made to legislators in US for lifting of the FDI gate in India, it impinges on our sovereignty.”
But then his debate with PC Chacko of the Congress descended into a maddeningly fuzzy vortex whose axis was the grammatical clause, “in India”. Were payments made in India to promote FDI in retail or were payments made to promote FDI in retail in India? Prasad exasperated both Chacko and the viewer by deliberately misreading Chacko’s statements. Good theatre but finally, a strategy that was too clever to be taken seriously.