Taking inspiration from the British Museum acquisition of Pt Ravi Shankar’s sitar, Victoria Memorial is planning to start a maestro’s corner on its premises. The idea is to create a space where instruments and memorabilia belonging to our icons will be on display for the public.
A few months ago, the Shankar family and the Ravi Shankar Foundation had donated this sitar. Crafted by Kolkata-based instrument maker Nodu Mullick in 1961, the sitar draws a lot of visitors to Room 33 of the museum’s Sir Joseph Hotung Gallery of China and South Asia. Mullick, who made sitars exclusively for the Shankars, had made only six sitars in his lifetime.
While this news has come as music to the ears, many in Kolkata have been ruing that instruments used by the likes of Pt Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan and Pt Nikhil Banerjee are not available for public viewing in this city. Even if successors of legends want to donate their treasures, they are clueless about whom to approach.
Jayanta Sengupta, curator of Victoria Memorial Hall, now wants to approach these families. “We have a piano on display that was used by Queen Victoria in her younger days. It would be great if we can get a sitar used by Pt Ravi Shankar or Ustad Vilayat Khan or a sarod used by Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. We will also set up listening ports for visitors to hear their music,” Sengupta said.
On Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s ninth death anniversary last month, his son Rajesh Ali Khan was keen on setting up a branch of Maihar’s Madina Bhawan in Kolkata which has an archive of instruments used by his grandfather, father, aunt Annapurna Devi and Pt Ravi Shankar. Sengupta said, “We will love to write to them with a proposal. We have a conservation and restoration unit that has laboratory and trained people,” Sengupta said. Rajesh told TOI: “They need to send a letter to my brother Ustad Aashish Khan. He can take a call on this.”
Pt Tejendra Narayan Majumdar, a disciple of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, is optimistic. “Victoria, which draws a huge crowd, is a great place to display our national treasures,” he said. Pt Bickram Ghosh said he will be “honoured” to donate a set of the tabla used by his father, Pt Shankar Ghosh. Pt Tanmoy Bose described this as a “fantastic” initiative. “I will try to get in touch with families and instrument makers like Bhajada and request them to donate their instruments to Victoria,” he said.