Saturday, April 20, 2002

The proud inheritor
Anjum Sayad

Anoushka with her father Pandit Ravi Shankar
Anoushka with her father Pandit Ravi Shankar

AT 20, Anoushka is no longer her papa’s daughter. As she jets around, carrying the sitar through countless concerts and music conferences around the globe, she has come to be recognised as the most deserving inheritor of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s legacy.

She is just back from performing at the opening ceremony of the World Economic Forum and had earlier shared the stage with Madonna and Bryan Adams at the Tibetan Peace Concert. She is also the youngest and only female recipient of the House of Commons Shield from the British parliament.

Apart from her solo performances, Anoushka collaborates with her 81-year-old father in cutting discs and providing musical support at recordings and stage shows. She is also actively involved in her father’s dream project — setting up a music academy in Chanakyapuri, Delhi.


"My father expects me to be more serious, but that does not stop him from being fun," she says while explaining his relationship with her, both as a demanding guru and a doting parent. "But as a father, I think he is more relaxed with me."

Even before she took to the sitar, Anoushka was an accomplished pianist. "I started learning the piano when I was 10 years old," she narrates. "Actually I was passionate about it and wanted to learn it as a baby. It seemed like at that point that would be the direction I would go in."

Then sitar happened: "It was not imposed on me, but suggested. Frankly, I was a little hesitant because it seemed like too much hard work. But my parents told me to check it out and I gave it a chance. As I grew up, I started loving it. At the age of 13, I gave my first solo performance."

In this, she acknowledges the role her mother, Sukanya, has played at shaping her career. "She is the best possible friend I can have," chirps Anoushka. "She was the one to get me offers in the beginning. Even now she manages everything and works tirelessly for me."

And what about her father?

"He is a pretty cool guy," she replies. "Although he is 61 years older to me, we’ve never had problems in communication or on generation issues. And even if there’s to be a dispute, my mother would play the mediator, saying: ‘no, no, you have to understand.’"

Anoushka has toured the US and UK extensively, besides large parts of Europe, including Spain and Italy.Last year, as part of her Asia tour, she visited Japan for the first time. "The audience there was amazing," she recalls. "It was all the more fun because Eric Clapton was staying in the same hotel and I got to know him pretty well."

Japan was followed by Singapore, and then Malaysia where she had a lecture demonstration: "It was crazy, 700 seats were full. I am used to lecturing 50 people at a time. And here was this huge crowd spilling on the stage. In the end, everything went perfectly fine."

But India and, oddly enough, Spain remain her favourite destinations. "In India, people connect with you because that’s where you belong," she explains. "But in Spain, they wouldn’t know a jack about what you are playing. And yet, they are so passionate that they scream and shout. They just love it."

Anoushka points out that every year, she takes three or four months out to be with her family in India. She does not have to put up in a hotel and feels perfectly "at home", whether she performs at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Allahabad or Chennai.

If there’s anything that she regrets, it is about not finishing her studies. She misses the campus life of normal college kids. Her preferred areas of study are "English literature, languages and a bit of philosophy.

On the side, she has been dabbling in poetry and has a collection of her compositions, which she will show nobody.She has also completed a book on her father, which should be hitting the shelves any time now. "Besides researching and going through articles on him, I made him sit for long hours and talk to me," she informs. MF