Pandit Ravi Shankar: The maestro and his women
Compiled by Shomini Sen
He was a non-conformist from the very beginning. And perhaps, that attracted women towards Pandit Ravi Shankar. A gypsy at heart, the man found solace in perhaps music the most till a very late period of his life.
The man was married at a young age to his guru Allauddin Khan’s daughter, Annapurna Devi, and had two children with her. Even though the couple shared the same passion for music - some even suggest that she was more talented than him - they could not make their marriage work. Cracks started appearing in their marriage from the late 1940s but the couple separated officially only in the early 1960s.
During his turbulent first marriage, Ravi Shankar had started seeing a dancer called Kamala Shastri, who allegedly had a big influence in Shankar’s life. But just like a gypsy, he never really stuck to one woman and wandered around. He was unabashed about his fondness for women. In his autobiography, Raga Mala, he said: "I felt I could be in love with different women in different places. It was like having a girl in every port - and sometimes there was more than one!"
While Kamala and Panditji lived together as ‘man and wife’ till 1981, the musician also had affairs with two different woman, both of whom had daughters with him.
In New York, Ravi Shankar lived in with his concert producer Sue Jones and fathered her child Norah, who was born in 1979.
Meanwhile, he met a young Sukanya Rajan in 1972, who played the tanpura at his concerts. Even though the two were in committed relationships with other people (Sukanya was married, Shankar was in a relationship with Kamala Shastri and was also dating Sue Jones) they embarked on a relationship in 1978. They had a daughter, Anoushka, in 1981.
Although lovers, the couple did not enter matrimony till Anoushka was 8 years old. While Sukanya was desperate to get married to him in spite of him being with two other women, Shankar wasn’t too sure.
“He was 58 then and told me he couldn`t change. I realised I was too much in love... I really couldn`t care. Even if he gave me a few days in a year, I was fine. That experience would help me tide over a whole year,” Sukanya Shankar had said in an interview to The Times of India.
When Shankar decided to marry Sukanya, Sue decided to break ties with him and banned him from meeting Norah as well. By this time, his two decade long relationship with Kamala Shastri had also come to an end. And in 1989, Ravi Shankar married Sukanya and got stability that he longed for so many years.
“Raviji never had a real family life. He was too young when he was first married. When things crumbled, hurt, he took to touring abroad. He was a gypsy. Of course, there was Kamala (Shastri) aunty. But she too gave him freedom. I wanted to give him the home he never had," Sukanya said.
Home, stability, love and happiness is what the musician got from Sukanya Shankar. Not only did she accept him with his flaws (she ‘blames’ love for it) but embraced the people who came with him. Kamala Shastri and Suknaya shared a beautiful bond and the former apparently had even told Panditji once that marrying Sukanya was the best decision of his life.
The serenity that Panditji’s music provided to generations was exactly the opposite of the kind of relationship he shared with various women in his life. It was tumultuous, caused heartbreaks and left some bitter memories. And yet, in spite of it, women wanted to nurture him, make him feel loved because he was truly one of a kind.