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Maestro with strings attached

ANJANA RAJAN meets the Ravi Shankar family and Sukanya tells her what it's like managing the musical family.

No longer detached... Pandit Ravi Shankar with wife Sukanya. Photo: R.V. Moorthy.

WHEN PEOPLE ask Sukanya Shankar if it rankles that her husband's time has to be shared with so many people, she replies, "I know he's public property." To that though, a well-wisher added, "You should say, public property, private ownership!"

Sukanya Shankar laughs delightedly in the recounting, and it's easy to forget that the husband in question, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, is in his 84th year of life. But that is something he is good at making you forget anyway.

The voice may be feebler, the walk more careful, the sitar playing, to the musically observant, a marginally slowed down version of the days when listeners of East and West envisioned mystic myths of creation and destruction as his fingers raced across the sitar. But Ravi Shankar's impish remarks, the glint in his eyes, his cheeky humour and power of observation are all proof that his mind is as young, as alert as ever.

But if Sukanya has to `share' with the rest of the world, it is because she understands that as a guru the greater family is "huge".

Yet, ask her what family means to her, and she becomes quite emotional.

"Family means everything to me. I think it is a cluster of deep relationships ready to compromise, making sure no feelings are hurt."

More at peace

Sukanya seems to work overtime on the latter. In a family that does not shirk to admit its departures from the beaten track, she points out how Ravi Shankar is now closer to his children and grandchildren and now "more at peace". Adds Sukanya, "My whole world is my family and that's how I keep my perspective. My priorities in life are Raviji, Anoushka, and now, Norah (the maestro's daughter by Sue Jones) and Kavi (Kaveri, his granddaughter by his elder son, the late Subho Shankar, his son by Annapoorna Devi).

"I think all creative genius children are difficult to bring up, because they usually don't have patience, and one needs a lot of patience," says Sukanya, pointing out that she doesn't only have Anoushka. "Actually I have three: Raviji, Anouskha and Norah," she laughs.


Then there is Som, Kaveri's brother, who just got married. In true motherly style, she narrates their traits. "Kaveri is very sweet. But these three - Som, Anoushka and Geetu (Norah, whose Indian name is Geetali) - are very alike, you know, spicy! I met Geetu when she was about 18, but I felt I had known her all my life."

Anoushka and Norah, says Sukanya, took some time to reach equilibrium with each other, since they were so alike. "It was difficult at first because both wanted to be leaders, and they were, in their groups of friends. But with each other, they couldn't do that!"

Norah Jones

Anoushka might well have her own take on that episode, and she has described her first meeting with sister Norah briefly in her pictorial biography of Ravi Shankar published by Roli, but right now she is too busy working on her next CD.

"She's doing a little crossover CD and working on it day and night," confides Sukanya. "She's composing all the music. She's got Vishwamohan (Bhatt) in it, and a lot of other people."

Now attached

As for the maestro, the question of what defines a family is a "profound" one. "By nature, I have always been a very detached person, not involved with family, with my children, excepting outbursts of relationships with people at different times," he reflects. "But for the last eight or 10 years, I have become very attached, and it means a great deal to me."

With disciples, though it has been another story. "That is very strange. I have always been very attached to my disciples, especially those who are very talented. I have always felt as if they were my sons," he says.

But he does not find a dilemma in drawing the line between loving one's disciples and differentiating their talent. "I think it's a natural factor for a guru to be more attached to the ones who are more talented. You want to give them everything."

For the time being, it might be daughter Anoushka who basks in that status, as she lives and travels with him too. But that doesn't mean Mom suspends her critical faculties. "Absolutely," she replies when asked if she comments on her work. And Ravi Shankar's work? "Yeah... "she drawls with a naughty fillip, adding, "I don't know enough to criticise, but I do give my opinion."

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