72-year-old Punita Gupta, of Kingsfield Avenue, was offered lessons by Shankar after she and husband Shambhu, 77, were invited backstage at a Royal Albert Hall concert in 1972.
Shambhu, who worked as a scientist, said: ‘I introduced myself to Ravi Shankar after the show. I said to him, “You play the sitar really well. My wife plays but she doesn’t play that well – I would like you to teach her”.
‘Shankar said to me: “Here’s the deal: I have a problem with my sitar strings. You sort out my sitar and I will teach her”. I didn’t know anything about sitar strings but he said, “You’re a scientist”. He had a lot of faith in scientists’, Shambhu added.
So began an enduring friendship between the Guptas and Shankar that lasted until the Grammy award-winning musician died in 2012.
Punita attended up to half a dozen lessons per year when Shankar was touring in Europe, mainly at his London base on Eaton Mews North, Belgravia – a home that was lent to Shankar by one of his other students, The Beatles’ George Harrison.
She forged her own successful career in sitar-teaching. Her students performed at the Royal Albert Hall’s Music for Youth Proms three times between 2006-08.
Shambhu continued to repair Shankar’s sitars and oversaw staging and merchandising on the UK legs of his tours.
Now Punita is practising for a performance inspired by Shankar’s music in celebration of his centenary.
She will perform alongside five of her current sitar pupils and two tabla players.
Punita said: ‘Ravi Shankar will be happy that even outside of India, we are promoting the Indian music and the instruments which he loved to a younger generation’.
‘It doesn’t matter how little or more they play – not everyone can reach super status – but at least they’re learning and appreciating the music’.
Ravi Shankar – who was described by George Harrison as ‘the godfather of world music’ – was influential in bridging the gap between Indian and western music before passing aged 92 in California.