Practice Makes Perfect

4 minute read

For a nine-year-old, music practice can be a drag, meaning parents typically have to wield the baton, if not the whip. Anoushka Shankar was no exception when it came to shirking homework on the special miniature sitar her folks had made for her when she was that age. “They would sit me down periodically and say ‘You don’t have to do this. But if you do it, you need to be serious about it,’ ” she says. Anoushka Shankar became so serious that by the time she was 13 she was performing alongside her father, whose name is synonymous with the stringed Indian instrument and who was responsible for it becoming known in the West. The legendary Ravi, now 82, has cut back on his concerts, but he predicts that his 21-year-old daughter is on the way to building a reputation that will someday eclipse his. “Anoushka has so much more than I had,” he says. “She not only knows what I knew, what I taught her, but she’s more acquainted with today, so she’s richer. That’s what happens.”

Ravi became known to the West during the ’60s, when he played at Woodstock and the Monterey festival and collaborated with the Beatles. His most recent album won a world music Grammy earlier this year. Anoushka, who lives with her parents in New Delhi — home to the new Ravi Shankar Center — and San Diego, also gets her musical inspiration from both East and West. Her repertoire is rooted in India’s Hindu tradition, but colored by an upbringing in London, New Delhi and California spent listening to artists such as Sting and Tori Amos. “People tend to find a big difference between me and other Indian musicians,” she says. “I have fun on stage. I like to groove.”

Lately she has developed an appreciation for jazz, thanks in part to the chart-topping debut album of her 23-year-old half-sister, Norah Jones. They only met five years ago — Jones’ mother distanced herself and her daughter from Ravi after he married Anoushka’s mother, Sukanya. Though the belated sibling relationship was a bit rocky at first, the sisters have become close and even have similar tattoos on their backs of a stylized lotus Anoushka designed. Will they ever collaborate? Perhaps. “We’ve tried to mess around a little. We just started laughing and gave up,” says Anoushka. “It might happen, but we’re both a little hesitant because we don’t really want to be hanging on each other.”

Meanwhile, she’s written a biography of her father, Bapi: Love of My Life, which comes out this month in India and later in Britain. She describes it as “kind of doting, but not blind.” Now she is toying with the idea of acting. She has already turned down Bollywood offers, but is thinking of doing a small-budget Indian film. Like her father, Anoushka has also begun to teach. So far she has just one pupil — the college-student daughter of family friends. Though Anoushka says she’s not an overly strict instructor, like her father, she demands plenty of practice.


TIME: What was it like having your father as your musical guru?
SHANKAR: Now we have a pretty good balance, but it was more difficult at the beginning. For example, learning to be more respectful and obedient in the music room made me a little shy around him outside. Because I was so young, he had to tailor the way he taught me. He used to have a pretty bad temper with students, and he had to really soften that with me.

TIME: Your parents got married you were seven. What changed?
SHANKAR: I loved my Dad as a family friend and called him Baba, but I didn’t really know who he was in relation to me. Everything came all at once — the father, the music. Partly it was just fun. When you’re that young, you take whatever happens as normal.

TIME: Where’s home?
SHANKAR: I feel like I’ve always had three homes — London, California and New Delhi. Moving to America at 11 meant that a lot of my personality was molded there — I’m not very traditional, I’m outspoken — but it was a difficult adjustment for my Dad.

TIME: Your parents are both Indian. Do you think you’ll marry someone Indian?.
SHANKAR: I wouldn’t be happy with a completely Indian or a completely Western person. It could be someone from the west who loves India or who understands my music.

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