In an interview with Suanshu Khurana, Pt Ravi Shankar’s wife Sukanya Shankar talks of life after his death, accepting the women in his life, writing an uncensored biography of the musician and completing the projects he began. Excerpts:
Panditji was instrumental in introducing the West to the complicated systems of Indian classical music, a fact that makes the Grammy Museum exhibit special. Tell us about the process of sifting through the memories for the exhibition.
Almost two years ago, I had loaned them a sitar and an attire for a small exhibition. But in 2015, they decided to do an extensive one. It was really hard; going through every letter, every photograph, his clothes and music that we had in the house. I broke down many times. Technically, the exhibition should be in India, considering he never gave up his Indian passport. I did apply to the Indian government, but they asked all sorts of silly questions so I decided against it. I could just donate all this to George Harrison’s Material World Charitable Foundation in Britain. After all, Raviji belonged to the world.
You are working on Panditji’s biography. This is likely to involve divulging a lot of personal information, getting in touch with Annapurnaji (Shankar’s first wife), among others.
I would like to get in touch with everyone who knew him closely. Annapurnaji lost her son early, and I feel really sad for her. A lot was said but you can never make noise with one hand. Two people have to make it work. If there was one thing that Raviji could not take, it was anger and temper.
You’ve always been accepting. There has never been any animosity about his choices in life
I was in love with this man. I still am. It began as admiration. I was completely starstruck by his genius. I never laid rules about marriage. He was a gypsy and he wasn’t forcing me into anything. He never made promises he couldn’t keep and was extremely open. You have a choice, to accept the man the way he is, or not. Certain things have been said in the past, about his libido and that he couldn’t control himself; I didn’t care. No one I knew could create better music than him. You can’t imagine, but till today, I have letters from the ’60s and later, from various women he knew. He saved them all.
Especially from Kamala Chakravarty, who was closely associated?
Especially hers. I’m grateful to her for loving him for over 25 years. She is an admirable woman and he was very fond of her. I still call her once a month. Norah (Jones) visits us often and I’m in touch with Shubhendra’s (Annapurna Devi and Pt Ravi Shankar’s son) children, Kaveri and Som.
Panditji created Sukanya, an orchestral piece, before he passed away. When will it be showcased?
He was writing music in his final days, in his hospital bed, too. He lived and breathed music. The conductor came down from London and was sitting next to him for this piece. We will be showcasing it soon, maybe by the end of this year.
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