Pandit Ravi Shankar toasts latest celebrity in brood

March 13th, 2008 - 11:16 am ICT by admin  

By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, March 13 (IANS) At 88, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar is beset with several tasks - writing a new concerto for daughter Anoushka, adding a new chapter to his autobiography, an impending trip to California and toasting wife Sukanya’s US-based sister who is a first-time novelist. “I have just finished reading 50 pages of my little saali’s (sister in-law Anu Jayanth’s) book, ‘The Finger Puppet’. It is slightly autobiographical. The book relates to her family, her father, mother, sisters and her growing up years in Tiruchirapalli,” Shankar told IANS in an interview.

“It is that part of Sukanya’s, my wife’s, family about which I don’t know much. I am gradually learning.”

As he sat chatting with IANS, he seemed to be every bit enjoying the interlude with all the “bright, lovely and leading ladies of his family - wife Sukanya, daughter Anoushka, sisters-in-law Anu from Houston and Yashodhara from Bangalore.”

Daughter Norah would have completed the happy family picture. “She is tied up, but she will be coming to India soon,” he said.

The maestro couldn’t help but reminisce about daughter Norah, the nine-time Grammy award-winning singer based in the US, who has always been in the shadows unlike her sibling, doing her own music.

“God has given me two daughters, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Both are equally talented and I am proud of both,” Panditji said.

“But Norah is completely rooted in Western music and it is a little too late in the day for her to pick up Indian music. Norah realises that, but her kind of music is amazing,” Panditji said.

Norah, said the maestro, was in India recently to spend time with him. “She was on a private visit. We went to Kolkata, which is very close to my heart, and stayed at the Taj Bengal. She had been to Indian twice before, but she was very young.

“She liked the city so much that she went out alone one day to check out the local sights like Alipore Zoo, a stone’s throw from the hotel. We were very worried, but I somehow convinced her to take a personal bodyguard along. She is a bit headstrong. But she is coming again.”

Right now it is another celebrity in the brood that he is proud of - Houston-based author Anu Jayanth.

“We are lucky to have another wonderful personality in the family. I am proud that new people like Anu are coming up,” he said. Jayanth’s book, “The Finger Puppet” hit bookstores across India Tuesday.

“I have started reading the book. I am proud of my aunt for there are certain elements in the book I can recognise. The literary and cultural streak not only comes from my father’s side but it runs very strong in my mother’s side as well,” said Anoushka, an accomplished sitar player herself.

“The Finger Puppet” tells the story of Tara, a girl with speech impediment, who shares her incandescent girlhood years with two overbearing sisters in a wealthy Brahmin home in Tiruchirapalli, enriched by her mother’s vast storehouse of Indian mythology and made sordid by her father’s Western education and ideas.

“For me, the book and the process of reconnecting to childhood is kind of therapeutic, getting over my personal childhood trauma and returning to India,” Jayanth said.

Chipped in sister Sukanya, Panditji’s wife, looking regal as Tara’s elder sister and queen of the clan: “She has always been gifted, first as an artist and now a novelist. I have been urging her to write for the last 11 years.”

Panditji, slightly under the weather and frail of health, chose the occasion to walk down memory lane.

“It has been a long journey for me. I have just completed my third concerto for the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra in New York, which Anoushka will play either in December or January. As for myself, I have not been playing much. There were just three concerts in Pune, Chennai and Kolkata,” he said.

Talk of Kolkata, and Panditji turns nostalgic.

“That’s my heart and soul for I began my artistic career in the city, the first nine years as part of my dada (elder brother) Uday Shankar’s ballet entourage as a dancer and then as a musician. It is the city where I met my mentor, classical music exponent Baba Allaudin Khan, when he joined my brother’s troupe for a year in 1935 and we toured Europe. I started learning music from him,” the artist recalled.

Around 1938 when World War II began, dancer Uday Shankar disbanded his ballet troupe and set up a cultural centre at Almora near Nainital in Uttarakhand.

“I left dada and went to learn music from Baba Allaudin. I stayed with him for seven-and-a-half years. I played on my own for the first time in 1939 at the Allahabad Music Conference and embarked on a career as a sitar player in 1944.”

Panditji’s ties with the land of his origin weakened over the years. “Initially we stayed at Elgin Road and then I maintained an apartment at Presidency Court near Gariahat in south Kolkata in the 1960s. I was a regular visitor then. But, there were so many engagements elsewhere…”

He is perhaps as busy now - adding another chapter to his autobiography “My Music, My life” and flying off to California to escape the Indian weather.

For today’s youth, Panditji has one message: “Read my books both in English and Bengali to know my contribution to the cause of popularising Indian music abroad. It is so difficult to list,” he smiles. And the fatigue creeps back to his voice.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at

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