I was in London giving a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1966 when I first met the Beatles. I had vaguely heard about their music but I had no idea how big they were. I met them and talked to them all but I was especially attracted to George as he was so humble and so nice.
He showed a great deal of interest in classical Indian music and the sitar. He had been taking a few sitar lessons but not that much and after our meeting he came to India to learn with me for six weeks. We started out in Bombay but people there came to know about him and there was a big commotion so we went up to Kashmir to continue.
After playing with the Beatles I toured in America. I had been touring as a classical musician since the age of 10 so I didn't find the travelling about too hard, despite the attention and different audiences. I find Europe a much easier place to travel as it's easier to get from one place to another. But I am used to travel. In fact, if I don't travel after about two weeks I become bored and restless.
New York was probably my favourite place in America. New York is a crazy place, and somehow I like it. I find that in spirit it is very similar to Calcutta. You see lots of negative things but on the other hand the creative energy is very attractive. There is so much going on there, however, I would not like to live there. I have a beautiful house in California near the ocean where I can spend a lot of time outside, walking quietly.
Although I live in California, I spend winters in India and I was in Delhi at the end of January when the president called me to tell me that I had won the Bharat Ratna, which in Sanskrit means the Jewel of India. This was a wonderful surprise for me.
London is probably my favourite destination. It is metropolitan and has wonderful art and opera and the greenery of the landscape is spectacular. There is a lot going on but it is very civilised and in the evening, after about 9pm I like the way it becomes very quiet. I had a house in Willesden Green for some years. But the weather stopped me from living there permanently.
I have toured to many places in the world, but I found Russian audiences the warmest: they are very emotional people. I became extremely interested in the folk music of Russia and central Asia and the music of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan is particularly influenced by Indian music.
As I was on a government- funded tour there was no "jamming" as such. In order to play with the different people that you meet when travelling I think that you must stay somewhere for a long time. Certainly more than just two weeks here and there.
In London in the late Sixties when the whole "love and peace" thing had started many people wanted to hang out and jam with me. They had long hair and long beards and were dressed strangely. They were very high on hash. I also found this in America in places like Monterey during the hippie movement.
This was difficult for me as I have always been against drugs. When I saw the way that rock and pop concerts are listened to - with so much screaming from the audience - I wanted to explain that you must be quiet and listen, and simply be high with the music. I tried to talk to as many people as I could and some of them understood.
George Harrison by then had completely changed and was in love with Indian culture, and was getting high that way. I found it very easy to travel with him.
Ravi Shankar will be in recital with his daughter Anoushka Shankar at the Barbican Hall on 9 July. Box Office (tel: 0171-638 8891).Reuse content