One would imagine that an autobiography of legendary musical maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar would be a big,fat book tracing his journey from beginning to end and all the milestones in between. But when his wife Sukanya Ranjan wanted to record the legend’s story,she decided to do it a little differently. Sukanyaji called me saying she wanted an illustrated representation of Guruji’s life. It was meant to be a surprise for his birthday, says Shobit Arya,owner of Wisdom Tree Publications,which recently published Yours in Music,a graphic novel based on Shankars autobiography.
The book is in the form of an interaction,as if Shankar is talking to his readers. It ends with an inspirational hand-written message from Guruji,a sort of signing off. Yours in Music,in that sense,to me summed up his life. He belonged to the world,to us. And music defined him as much as he defined music, says Arya,about how they decided the name for the autobiography.
The memory of the process leading up to the book is also fresh in Arya’s mind. Sukanyaji wasn’t able to resist sharing the secret with Guruji for long. Soon he too came on board and we began our quest for a suitable illustrator who would understand the intricacies of the project, he says. Both the maestro and Arya decided that illustrator Neelabh Banerjee should be the one.
Neelabh and I had worked together on a book earlier called Indian by Choice and we had such a good understanding that no other name came to my mind. Interestingly,Guruji used to love Neelabh’s strip published regularly in an English daily, says Arya.
Banerjee takes the story forward and says there was no reason for him to think twice about the project. He knew the book would be a lifetime ode to Guruji and so he set out to do detailed research of Shankar’s life and times. Referring to old sketches and books,Banerjee got a peek into the early part of Shankar’s life spent in the bylanes of Benaras and Ganga ghat. But what helped him most were the hours spent with the maestro,who gave graphic and detailed descriptions about his life. Once I placed myself in the situations the book talks about,the detailing came naturally. When we were showing the early life of Guruji,his surroundings,the narrow lanes of Benaras,the Ganga ghat and his home with an open urn chulha became important. These details tell their own story about his life and under what conditions the family was living, describes Banerjee,who has depicted each scene of the maestro’s life with convincing and realistic backdrops.
Another important factor he had to keep in mind was the sense of time. Banerjee wanted his illustrations to take readers on a journey with Shankar so he begins the book with black and white frames that gradually turn sepia and end with full colour. When Guruji saw the first cut of the frames his eyes filled up with joy as the drawings were so near to accuracy, says Banerjee with satisfaction.
Throughout the time spent working on the project,both Arya and Banerjee discovered different shades of Shankar. We learnt that Guruji was a brilliant actor. When he would describe different scenes of his life to us,he would get very animated, says Banerjee,recalling the time when Shankar told them about Uday Shankar’s troupe first reaching the coast of America.