Annapurna Devi speaks: Great loss

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  • Published 13.12.12

Dec. 12: Annapurna Devi, the first wife of Pandit Ravi Shankar, has said “India has lost one of the greatest musicians”.

“In Panditji’s death, India has lost one of the greatest musicians. It’s a great loss to the world of music in general and to Maihar gharana in particular. He loved Baba (Ustad Allauddin Khan). He loved music. He and Dada (Ustad Ali Akbar Khan) did more for our music globally than anyone I know,” Annapurna Devi, now 83, told The Telegraph over the phone.

In her solitary sixth floor sea-facing Warden Road apartment in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill, she received this morning the news of the death of Panditji from her husband, sitar player Rooshikumar Pandya.

Annapurna Devi can still remember the day in 1938 when Robu (as Ravi Shankar was known then), a pert westernised teenager then, first came to Maihar village in what is now Madhya Pradesh to learn from her father, sarod maestro Allauddin Khan. Ravi Shankar was 18 then, Annapurna 9.

Together, they learned from Baba, as Allauddin Khan was addressed, and practised for hours together with her brother Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.

Ravi Shankar and Annapurna got married according to Hindu rituals in 1941. Together, they wanted to perform and spread Baba Allauddin Khan’s tradition of music among music lovers.

But destiny had different plans for both of them.

While Pandit Ravi Shankar was ready to, some say, compromise, with what he learnt from Baba to reach out to the wider public, Annapurna Devi wouldn’t. She would passionately stick to what her Baba taught her and this apparently led to differences between the couple.

Ravi Shankar came to Akashganga (Annapurna Devi’s present apartment on Warden Road) only once, in 1980. That was the last they spoke to each other. Ever since, there was no communication in any form between them.

As Ravi Shankar kept exploring new avenues to win the hearts of music lovers across the world, Annapurna Devi preferred to keep to herself.

Although she would not open up in front of everyone, she continued to remember Pandit Ravi Shankar with reverence.

Rooshikumar Pandya, who first met Ravi Shankar at the age of 17 and accompanied him on the tanpura in several concerts in the US, said today: “What he (Pandit Ravi Shankar) accomplished in one lifetime, most cannot in three or four. He was one of the greatest musicians of all time and the greatest sitar player who took our classical music all over the world.

“His dedication, his virtuosity, his love for all music, his creativity, his child-like curiosity, his attention to detail, his pursuit of excellence, his sense of humour, and above all, his devotion to his Guru Baba Allauddin Khan-saheb influenced me and impacted my life in more ways than one, and for that I will be eternally grateful to him.

“People from various parts of the world called me up this morning to ask what was Annapurnaji’s reaction to Panditji’s death. She is sad, but stable.”