Norah Jones in the city. Picture by Pabitra Das
“It feels great to be back in Calcutta after a number of years…. This time, it’s been more like a holiday, because my elder daughter Geethali — whom you know as Norah Jones — has come along with us.”
As Pandit Ravi Shankar talked about Salil Chowdhury, a music shop “opposite the Old Empire cinema hall, now known as Roxy”, paturi and family ties with his daughter Anoushka beside him, the sitar maestro’s other daughter, born Geethali Norah Jones Shankar, sat in a back room, silent and away from cameras.
In the city after five years, Shankar was cheerful and chatty at the media conference at Calcutta Club to announce a concert with Anoushka to mark the finale of the club’s centenary celebrations. “It’s wonderful to be returning and performing here with Anoushka,” smiled Shankar.
But it was clear that Norah, the multi-Grammy-winning American singer who shot to fame with the 2002 album Come Away With Me, was here on a very private visit. Though she accompanied her family to the media conference, she steered clear of the press. And when asked how it felt to be in Calcutta a few minutes before at the Taj Bengal, where they are staying, a whispered “good” and a smile were her only responses.
Anoushka, on the other hand, shared the stage with her father, speaking of her mother as the reason why she’s a musician and on Norah being her “support system”. Shankar, 87, may be struggling with his health, but he beamed as he confessed his still-youthful nature: “I try hard to bring some parity between my physical age and my inner child. But it’s really never happened.”
The family — Shankar, wife Sukanya, daughters Anoushka and Norah and pet dog Suki — arrived in Calcutta on Wednesday night. Shankar, Sukanya, Anoushka and Suki had come to Delhi in early December. After a Pune concert, they went back to Delhi, at which time Norah joined them from China, where her film My Blueberry Nights was being screened.
“In April when I last performed with him in the US, Raviji was dying to come to Calcutta,” said tabla player Tanmoy Bose, who will be performing with the father-daughter duo on Saturday. “Norah wanted to spend time with her family, hear her father perform and meet some of his old friends. She will fly back to Delhi with the family on December 30 and will probably be there till New Year’s,” added Bose.
Robin Pal, who has organised many concerts for Shankar over the years, received the family at the airport. He had met Norah before, when she came to Calcutta as a one-year-old with her mother Sue. “They were on a trip around the country and Raviji had asked me to take care of them in Calcutta,” remembered Pal.
After suffering from double pneumonia last year, Shankar still has numerous restrictions, and has been told to keep his distance from people for fear of infection. He is largely wheelchair-bound and can no longer sit on the floor to play. “Raviji has given specifications for a chair to be custom-made so he can sit and perform on that,” said Bose.
But it is unlikely that Calcutta will get to hear his elder daughter Norah sing.