‘Indian Sun’ The Life and Music of Ravi Shankar by Oliver Craske arrived as a paperback book of some 600 pages, including references and index, and I have to state that every page is well worth the read.
Shankar himself gave most of the contents to Craske over the course of several years, plus, his life, although well documented and archived, is further enhanced by the memories gleaned by so many notables from around the globe. All the relevant detail is included here in droves, either for good or bad.
From a strange background of a relatively large family, a caring mother, a largely absent father, and older siblings, he grew up fast. Born in Benares April 1920, he became part of a troupe of dancers and musicians led by his elder brother Uday; this began his travelling history as they moved around India and Europe. By 1938, he had virtually left dancing behind, and took up serious education to master the Sitar. This of course, became increasingly noteworthy as Eastern music became an acceptable genre to adopt.
His fame grew, especially enhanced by Benjamin Brittain, Yehudi Menhuin, Rostropovitch and a plethora of others. The sixties proved to be a mixed blessing for the more classically trained musicians, as the youth of the day adopted the perceived mysticism, and freshness of Indian music. Aided and abetted by George Harrison of The Beatles fame, other ‘rock and roll’ aficionado’s, allied with the mass appeal of ‘pop’ festivals, where the Indian culture, and music, was vastly enjoyed by thousands of naive youngsters. Maybe the celebrated Monterey Jazz Festival (1967) proved this, when the audience began applauding Shankar after he had simply tuned his Sitar.
This book is superbly detailed, with no holds barred whatsoever. The proviso being that it was written, and published after his demise. There are a variety of startling revelations admitted to within the book, some of which could sour the affection people felt for him, but what comes across to the reader is that Ravi was a man, a good looking man, a talented, but thinking man, who lived in a time of much change for India, and Indian culture.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and it rekindled my interest in Indian art forms, whether musical, culturally, or geographical. The world is a far lesser world without Ravi Shankar in it now, but his daughters Anoushka Shankar, and Nora Jones continue the legacy for our delectation.
Review by Reg Seward
Published by Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 Jun. 2021)
Paperback, ISBN 978-0571350865