I have heard Ravi Shankar play on the sitar. He has everything one can imagine: the personality of a singer, the mastery of his instrument, and the gift of innovation, which is rare in classical musicians. He is immensely interested in the new. He has played with Yehudi Menuhin. No other Indian sitar player would be ready to do it because no such thing has ever happened before. Sitar with a violin! Are you mad? But innovators are a little mad, that’s why they are capable of innovation.
The so-called sane people live orthodox lives from breakfast till bed. Between bed and breakfast, nothing should be said. Not that I am afraid of saying it, I am talking about them. They live according to the rules. They follow lines.
But innovators have to go outside the rules. Sometimes one should insist on not following the lines, just for not following’s sake, and it pays, believe me. It pays because it always brings you to a new territory, perhaps of your own being. The medium may be different but the person inside you, playing the sitar, or the violin, or the flute, is the same: different routes leading to the same point, different lines from the circle leading to the same center. Innovators are bound to be a little crazy, unconventional…and Ravi Shankar has been unconventional.
First: he is a pandit, a brahmin, and he married a Mohammedan girl! In India one cannot even dream of it – a brahmin marrying a Mohammedan girl! Ravi Shankar did it. But it was not just any Mohammedan girl, it was the daughter of his master. That was even more unconventional. That means for years he had been hiding it from his master. Of course the master immediately allowed the marriage, the moment he came to know. He not only allowed, he arranged the marriage.
He too was a revolutionary, of a far greater range than Ravi Shankar. Alauddin Khan was his name. I had gone to see him with Masto. Masto used to take me to rare people. Alauddin Khan was certainly one of the most unique people I have seen. He was very old. He died only after completing the century.
When I met him he was looking toward the ground. Masto didn’t say anything either. I was a little puzzled. I pinched Masto, but he remained as if I had not pinched him. I pinched him harder, but still he remained as if nothing had happened. Then I really pinched him, and he said, “Ouch!”