This autobiography completes a small biographies shelf in my library. The book Raga Mala has been well designed to give and gives you a feeling that you are reading something special. There is a lot of Golden colors used, both on the cover and inside in text and in pictures. There are beautiful pictures from Ravi’s all phases and tracks of life. It is edited and introduced by George Harrison, who considered Ravi Shankar his guru. And his comments are interspersed in the story throughout the book Raga Mala. There are some quotes here and there by some other people who played a key role in his life. The chapters are beautifully named after all the Ragas that Ravi has created.
Pt Ravi Shankar is an icon and we have grown up reading about him, his music, his awards, his experiments and his colorful personal life. He talks about all this in this book Raga Mala. But apart from this, there is a lot that you get to read about him. Especially about his family and early childhood. His brother Uday, who was probably far more successful than Ravi and was instrumental in giving Ravi a global exposure while he was still in his teens. He talks about his parent’s relationship, which was restricted only to producing children. Who shared nothing beyond the children that they produced.
But as he grows up, he understands why it is difficult for his father to relate to his mother. The gaps in their upbringing, their education, maturity levels and social exposure. His father was a well-known figure in British India. And was probably from the first generation of global Indians. His brother Uday was a close follower, who was a renowned dancer and toured across the globe with his dance troupe. Performed across the world, lived in France for a while and finally set up a dance school in Almora. Ravi started participating in his dance performances, as a dancer to begin with. Till he discovered that it was Sitar that is his destiny.
Once he figured out Sitar, he went on to learn from his guru Allaudin Khan, who was lovingly called Baba in Maihar. Circumstances led him to marry his guru’s daughter. While he was in love with two other women at that point in time. And knew very well that he had no fondness for the girl he is marrying. Nonetheless, she played an important part in shaping up his initial career. As she herself was an accomplished musician and a disciple of her father. Ravi never had a happy marriage with her. He blames his marriage for the certain missed opportunities in his career. Though he seems to have no apology for the fact that he was always living with some women while he was still married.
He and his wife had one son, with whom he got to spend time at a very late stage in life. And that is when he tried to promote him in the music world. The son died very early. Other prominent women Kamla and his current wife Sukanya, also went through a lot to be with him. I am sure all the others whose name he has not mentioned, but he was associated with also must have suffered. But the amazing fact is that they still wanted to be with him despite knowing what they were getting into. Finally, he talks with a lot of care and affection about his daughter Anoushka, who seems to be the chosen heir for his music and life. He still does not talk about Norah Jones, he keeps referring to her as my other daughter.
He talks in detail about his musical journey. His days at Maihar with his guru and his family, his establishing himself as a global musician, his associations with Beetles and other prominent musicians from across the world throughout the latter half of 20th century. He talks about his struggle to take the Indian music to international audiences. And the image that he had of being a pop star. He talks about his struggle to imbibe discipline in his audience. Small things like insisting that he would sit on a raised platform while performing, no matter where he is performing. No tolerance for anyone not listening respectfully and an explanation of Ragas at the beginning of each concert.
He describes his experience at Woodstock festival as a place where ‘music is incidental’. And how he did not enjoy performing amongst everyone under the influence of drugs. He described his experiments of creating music with a variety of people, styles, and instruments. He comes out as someone who is ready to explore and experiment any time. Describes various forms of music and the music from various places also very beautifully. You can almost feel it as you read it.
Raga Mala is an interesting reading….
Buy this book – Raga Mala The Autobiography of Pt Ravi Shankar at Amazon India.