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The spice of life

ANJANA RAJAN
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Excerpts from Table For Two interview with Pandit Ravi Shankar

Choosing to dine out with Pandit Ravi Shankar and his family at Masala Art, Taj Palace Hotel’s classy restaurant, the sitar maestro walks ahead with wife Sukanya, accepting greetings from the restaurant staff and some awed looks from customers, while granddaughter Kaveri Shankar and Panditji’s tour manager Terry Galindo follow, admiring the décor with a “Cool! It looks like a Sushi bar.” This family too is delectably traditional, and it has its delicious contemporary twists.

Pandit Ravi Shankar is well versed in etiquette of different kinds, though not always comfortable with it. “I always drop my table napkin,” he says ruefully, and the restaurant’s host for the evening suggests he attach it to his shirt using the buttonhole provided in a corner of the cloth napkin. As the others round the table exclaim at the novelty of the idea, the maestro informs that though the buttonhole system is prevalent in the U.S., he has not found it on the Continent. But, he adds candidly, once it is firmly attached to him, he is quite capable of walking out with it as well!

The meal is decided over drinks like fresh fruit juice and sugarcane juice. Panditji is fond of dal, yellow lentils with plenty of ‘tadka’ in the traditional style. But here he settles for Hyderabadi khatti dal, another signature dish. There is rice to accompany these, and a whole array of kababs. The maestro’s favourite potato dish abroad is pommes de terres avec de l’aille — potatoes cooked in garlic. But he is happy with Masala Art’s special potato preparation, katliyuan aloo, lightly spiced with curry leaves.

“There used to be automats in America, machines where you could press a button and select your meal,” Panditji recalls. “It could be chicken or some other hot meal. There was a whole system behind it, because after you got your meal, it would be replaced in the window. The drug stores also always had a food counter where people could sit and eat.”

“Was that in New York?” asks Terry.

“All over America. I am talking about the 1930s and ’40s, even up to the ’60s. Now of course they are not there,” he concludes, and one pictures his pioneering years, travelling to the fashion capitals of the world, a fashion icon himself, wooing art connoisseurs to Indian music and completely wowing the younger generation with his skill and his Adonis like looks.

Leaving the restaurant amid pleasantries, some autograph seekers shyly approach the Shankars. No anonymity here. Theirs is a tradition of celebrity.

ANJANA RAJAN

(The article was published in February 2003)

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