Shashi Mohan Bhatt (c. 1930-1997)

4. 5. 2008 | Rubriky: Articles,Lives

[by Ken Hunt, London] The sitarist, composer and teacher Shashi Mohan Bhatt began what might be called a family tradition: that of taking Pandit Ravi Shankar as their guru. His son Krishna Mohan Bhatt and his sister Manju Mehta (her married name) – both of whom played sitar – and his younger brother Vishwa Mohan Bhatt – who played a modified acoustic guitar he named Mohan vina player – would all go on to study with the sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Shashi Mohan Bhatt, however, was one of Shankar’s first shishyas (pupil-disciples). Nobody was quite sure, least of all Ravi Shankar, but Shashi Mohan Bhatt was definitely one of the first three. Shankar told me in 1993 that Shashi Mohan Bhatt and he had crossed paths in Delhi “around the ’49 period”. In 1994 Vishwa Mohan Bhatt added more detail: “When he heard my brother’s sitar performance he was very much impressed and felt very good about it. That’s how they came together. My brother became a disciple of him. He used to go to Delhi to have training.”

Shashi Mohan Bhatt had been born around 1930 in Jaipur in the Indian state of Rajasthan. India. He continued his relationship with his guru and the Maihar and Senia gharanas (or schools of playing). His life brought him awards and recognition as a fine sitar player – in Shankar’s description, he was a “very good sitar player” – and as an academic. This expertise stood him in good stead when teaching Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the younger brother who would go on to become only the third Indian musician to win a Grammy for his and the American guitarist Ry Cooder’s Meeting By The River (1992). Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s deserved success as a top-ranking Hindustani classical maestro is in no small way the product of his formative family upbringing. His older brother, who stayed out of the limelight but basked in his kid brother’s success, played an influential role in Vishwa Mohan Bhatt’s success.

For generations out of mind India was quite casual about recording births, particularly rural parts of the subcontinent and in places distanced from officialdom. In a land where infant mortality has been the norm, birth registration wasn’t a pressing matter and memories tended to get confused. Consequently, many people celebrate birthdays reckoned by their proximity to melas (festivals), many of which are lunar, with no certainty as to which year they were born. That also applied to Shashi Mohan Bhatt. On his death his age was given as 67. He had been badly afflicted by cancer for more than three years and had been in considerable pain at times. He died on 15 July 1997 at home in Bapunagar, Jaipur surrounded by his family.

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