Ravi Shankar

The Observer, Jul 2004

This Much I Know: Ravi Shankar, MusicianRavi-Shankar-by-Alex-Hoerner

Photograph  by Alex Hoerner

Also at The Observer

You must concentrate on one thing, then everything else becomes easier. But if you concentrate on many things, you achieve nothing. My guru Baba Allaudin Khan told me this when I was 15 and I was torn between playing sitar or being a dancer. It changed my life.

I saw Shrek but Shrek 2, I liked better. The new addition is Antonio Banderas doing a little cat. Fantastic.

The great singer Tansen could make the rains come. I believe these things. Along with being a musician, these people were great yogis. They practised real yoga – mental yoga, not just standing on your head.

Success has not really mattered much, believe me, because I have always dreamt of much more. I think music has given me that feeling because it’s an endless journey, you know, so what is this success for?

In the Fifties, when we came to the US, they were completely ignorant about Indian music but at the same time so enthusiastic, just like a child finding something new. It was fantastic. I’m sad to say I found England very backward in that way, even London, with its great connection to India. Very indifferent. The British had all the Mogul paintings in the British Museum, but they were not interested in live Indian art.

It is wrong to call it ‘ethnic’ – it is the classical music of India. It is more than 2,000 years old, and it is an unbroken, living tradition. Now that I am older, it means even more to me to keep the sanctity of classical music. It’s like keeping some diamonds especially in a box.

For me, the secret to happiness, which I may not be able to follow myself, is that you should be happy with what you have and not always be hankering.

Many people got the wrong impression of Indian yoga and meditation because they associated it with drugs. People like Timothy Leary, Allen Ginsberg, they were all propagating drugs so much and I felt very much disturbed. You don’t get drunk and go to a Beethoven concert.

People are well informed now, but they don’t have real knowledge. That’s what I feel. Everyone knows a little about yoga, philosophy, this and that, but nothing deep.

Travelling so much, there ‘s that feeling of being lonely. That ‘s why I met these women one after another. Loneliness. It’s the same story with all these famous actors and musicians – travelling and opportunities.

I don’t want to learn computers, they scare me. I’m so frightened. Even with the new TV and all that, there’s so much you can do with those remote controls.

George Harrison was very sincere in wanting to learn the whole Vedic culture, and yoga, the philosophy of India. George was a very good friend, but he was also a student and like a son to me.

I almost think the Hindu way – that the soul never dies, it ‘s like changing address – but sometimes I have questions and doubts about death. I’m not scared of it, only of suffering and being at the mercy of others.

Mr Bean is a favourite of mine, but he seems such a different man in person. My daughter Anoushka met him and she said he ‘s so serious.

We learn always, but we forget also so much. For instance, my relationship to the nearest people, like my wife, my family, my daughters Anoushka and Norah – sometimes I have neglected them, you know, and especially I think this is the curse of people who become famous, who travel a lot. I deeply regret it. You can say that fame is like a light which is giving me darkness.

The Monterey Festival, I really liked. There was innocence. When they gave you flowers and said ‘Love and peace’, they meant it. But within two years I went to Woodstock and things did not go the right way. I saw half a million people rolling in mud. Music was incidental. At most there were five people listening to music.

You just cannot play a record and expect that it will do things for you. You also have to train yourself how to listen and make your mind clear. When you go to church you don’t go all dirty – you’re clean to go into the temple with God. Same way with music.

I hardly saw my father for 20 days, if I count them all. And I had my mother only for 10 years and after that nothing.It made me a loner – I never knew what it meant to be a father. That’s why I think that, directly or indirectly, I didn ‘t give that much time to my own children.

I’m glad to say that I didn’t sell myself and become a multi-millionaire cult guru.I could have easily taken that route.