Beatles' George Harrison called him the Godfather of World Music, and the late Yehudi Menuhin has even compared him to Mozart. And recently, the four-time Grammy virtuouso's contribution to the world of music was saved for posterity at the launch of Grammy museum's latest special exhibit: Ravi Shankar: A Life In Music. In a candid chat with Hindustan Times, his third wife Sukanya Shankar bares her heart on the maestro's craft, the women in his life, and her step-daughter Norah Jones.
You were already married when you first met Panditjee. How did it happen? Did you have to fight your own dilemmas till things got finalised between the two of you?
My first marriage was one of convenience. But I did grow to get fond of him. When I met Panditjee, I was in awe of him and completely starstruck. One day he played my favourite raga at a concert in Greenwich and just gave me one look. That was enough and I was his slave. That was the first time I really fell in love from deep within and there was never any dilemma nor turning back after that.
Love can happen at any state, and knows no boundary. Your eternal romance with Pandit Ravi Shankar is a living proof. What motivated you to ignore the 34-year age-gap between the two of you?
When you fall in love you don't really think about the logistics of age etc. My heart and soul had found its mate: I was head over heels in love with him. He was the most gorgeous, charming, true gentlemen I had ever met in my life. No younger man had attracted me like that before.
You might have heard him earlier, but you were probably 17 when you shared the stage with him for the first time. I am sure the memories are still vivid in your mind.
Yes, I played Tanpura for him in 1973 at the Royal Albert Hall. I had long nails and he said I should cut it before the programme and I said I would. After a moment, he went and got his nail clippers and cut my nails for me. I just couldn't believe my eyes. Every moment is very vivid in my mind. His smile, looks and words are etched in my heart forever.
Ravi Shankar was the most charming man I ever met: Sukanya Shankar
I was reading somewhere that you knew about Panditjee's affairs, and some of those women were friends with him even after your marriage with him. Love indeed makes people rise. In fact, you very famously said, "I don’t mind sharing him." This, according to me, is complete surrender in love. You never felt any jealousy?
He already had a life pattern when I came to his life. I wouldn't have respected him if he just had affairs and ditched the women in his life. I accepted him wholly and if it meant that included his women who he loved, that was fine. He was friends will all the people he loved till the end and yes some came and stayed with us even after we got married and until even a year before he left me. He gave me double fold when anyone was there and didn't give me a chance to feel jealous. I respect the people who cared for and loved him in his life.
The society was very conservative back then, but what you did then is still a lesson in women emancipation. I am talking about having a child with Pandit Ravi Shankar in those difficult circumstances.
Yes it was difficult but when you know your priorities and follow your heart, everything falls into place. Life is like a jigsaw puzzle but when you try persistently everything does fall into place. Anyway that’s what I believe.
In one of your interviews, you said that Panditjee was non-materialistic. Were you of the same nature or you just did what he wanted you to do?
He was a true artist and didn't think materialistically and I would also like to think that I am not materialistic either. He was my priority and I wanted to do everything that would make him happy, comfortable and at peace and hence I took care of the mundane things. Now I am able to follow his path more.
You probably wanted to provide the feeling of home to a gypsy, no?
Yes and I think I succeeded in that. He once told me that he had forgotten what a Home was and was so deeply grateful to me.
Ravi Shankar and Anoushka during their training session.
Shubho was a gifted musician. Today he could have done wonders as a musician.
Yes he was. Anybody who crossed the path of Raviji was successful and Shubho was his son. It's so sad that he passed away at an early age.
Who was Panditjee closest to?
I wish I knew! May be the one person I was jealous about, his darling Sitar!
How do you perceive Anoushka as a musician?
I am not qualified to judge that but go by what Raviji said that she was his favourite disciple and said, "My Anoushka and my Music are one and the same".
How is your relationship with Norah Jones?
Beautiful. She is a very sweet girl and I love her very much.
Who would you pick as the more gifted musician in between Anoushka and Norah?
It's like asking which one of my eyes is better. They are both his daughters and extremely talented.
I am sure there are many unheard stories about you and Panditjee. Please share one with our readers.
Every day was beautiful and if anytime there was a cloud, he would be the first person to clear it and shine like the Sun in my life. He continues to be that sunshine in my life even now.
Would you say the Grammy Museum exhibition is a recognition to Panditjee's contrbution to music?
It's such a wonderful honour. The exhibition is on for a whole year and the Grammy people have worked passionately to make it such a unique exhibition. I have loaned several of his Sitars, his special attires, letters etc. I wish this could be done in India sometime. The opening also featured a film by Alan Kozlowski, and music by his disciple Barry Phillips and his grand students, Lakshay and Aayush Mohan Gupta performed as well.
(Interact with Rohit Vats at Twitter/ @nawabjha)