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Sharing the maestro with the world

What is it like to manage a musical family? Ask Sukanya, wife of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar



Sukanya understands that with her husband as a guru, the greater family is `huge'. — 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, a well-wisher adds, "You should say, public property, private ownership!"

Sukanya Shankar laughs delightedly at this. It's easy to forget that her husband, sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, is in his 84th year of life. But that is something he is good at making you forget any way.

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 the mysticism of creation and destruction as his fingers raced across the strings. 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' her husband 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 emotional.

"Family means everything to me. I think it is a cluster of deep relationships where you make compromises, ensuring that nobody is hurt."

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 "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 the children of all creative geniuses 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 have only 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 accept each other. "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!"

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.

ANJANA RAJAN

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