The Maestro, The Man, and the Woman Unsung

What might Ma Annapurna Devi have written to Pandit Ravishankarji on his birthday, if she could? ❧

Dear Panditji,

Wishing you a very happy birthday today.

On 7th April 1920, you were born from the intellect of the Goddess Saraswati and the unseen passion of the lashing rains on a parched land, which waits ardently like a lover to be soaked in its godliness. When the celestial shower strikes its promised land, it births little saplings of hope, love and music that can only be felt and played by the soul of a musician.

I remember the day you came to my home and Baba gave my hand to you. We married and had Subho, who didn’t live to tell my tale and died while I was alive. A mother’s eyes can never dry from the pain of losing her own and the memory of you watching in marvel the little finger that Subho held tightly and finally the Sitar. A piece of my heart and soul ended that day. The pain and torment broke every inch of me beyond resurrection.

I changed my name to Annapurna Devi after getting married to you. Coming from a devout Bengali Muslim family and daughter of Ustad Allauddin Khan, my father saw me as a young girl playing the sitar. I was frightened of the consequences, but to my surprise he was pleased and decided to give me Talim from that day.

After our marriage we practiced together and did performances. I very soon could sense I was making you uncomfortable when the audience clapped for me. I stepped down from playing the sitar in public.

Your talent is boundless like the ocean that doesn’t know its own depth. As you became more successful, we were becoming distant. Our divorce was inevitable. Your world was large now, your accolades as much a weight on your shoulders as they were an honour. They dwarfed us, what we had together, and your responsibilities towards me.

I decided post our divorce to not talk to too many people but continue my Riyaz and teach students. I became a recluse. My meditative energy with the Sitar saw me through my dark tormented hours. I often forgot that I had the talent but as I saw the right notes being played in my loving students, among them Hariprasad Chaurasia, Nikhil Banerjee and so many who called me Ma, I felt connected to this art that was me. They took Talim from me and I felt anchored in my choppy seas, teaching, practising and being Ma to all of them.

On my dark stormy nights of memories, I remember you with all the love and also a deep sadness of having lost our Shubho, the beautiful innocent bridge that kept us connected, even if it was for a short while.

You were the only Indian to take Indian classical music to the rest of the world and create beautiful fusions we’ve never seen before, as you did with George Harrison of The Beatles.

I pray more Ravi Shankars are born to take the world by storm. As your wear the Mezraf to play your favourite Raag, I watch the splendour of your totality as an artist who is one with this transcendent spiritual medium. I do hope someday in another lifetime we both share a stage together to play our favourite Raag with our love, pain, and turmoil, our fingers cutting on the wires, bleeding for that perfect, infinite note. I hope a stage somewhere in the world will be lit with the fire of passion of this meditative space that belongs to both of us.

Happy birthday Panditji.

Annapurna Devi

This is a fictional letter between Ma Annapurna Devi and Pandit Ravishankar, both musical geniuses in their own right. Panditji got all the recognition he rightfully deserved, but Ma Annapurna did not. On his birthday, I felt that it apt that both be given their due, and that their story is worthy of knowing.

Here’s one of my favourite pieces by Panditji, a collaboration with Philip Glass: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBB9d_tSZJA. For those who have not heard him, this is a great introduction!Follow my page for more articles like this every week.

Pandit Ravishankarji with George Harrison of The Beatles, Source: NYT
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