Inheriting a Legacy
By Anoushka Shankar
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Children of notable personalities. Inheritors of legacies. People of questionable talent. We’re a funny breed, aren’t we? If we follow our parents’ footsteps, we’re under constant scrutiny. If we strike it out on a different path, we’re failures or heroes, depending on the onlooker. Either way, we must all be oracles, for people certainly expect us to answer impossible questions! There are things I’ve been asked about being my father’s daughter many times before, and probably will for the rest of my life. But I still find answering them such a challenge.
In every fifth interview I’m asked, “If you weren’t Ravi Shankar’s daughter, would you still be a sitarist?” And then I sit there, stumped. If I weren’t Ravi Shankar’s daughter, I wouldn’t be Anoushka. I wouldn’t look or sound like I do, I wouldn’t have had the life I’ve had or done the things I’ve done. With a different father I would be a different person, therefore I would no longer be “I.” I simply wouldn’t exist. How can I play the sitar as a non-person? And how can I answer a question about what I may do in some hypothetical alternate-reality in which I am no longer myself?
“Did having a famous father help push you into the limelight? Did having a genius musician at home help you learn the same instrument?” Sure, of course it did! The same way having a schoolteacher for a mother will help you in your education. The same way being unusually tall can help you as a basketball player. The same way going to a different coffee-shop than usual could cause you to bump into your future spouse. Chance is a part of all our lives.
But a sitar didn’t just fall into my hands. I chose my father’s instrument, just as his other disciples chose that instrument. And this endless hypothetical curiosity takes focus away from what’s actually important to me: our incredible musical heritage, its place in the future, finding a balance between tradition and creativity, and doing justice to my father’s teachings. Not his blood in my body, but his teachings. As a musician, surely the fact that Ravi Shankar is my guru is more significant than the fact that he’s my father?
Another question is, “How do you plan to continue your father’s legacy?” It’s hard to answer, because I’ve never seen it as a legacy in the first place. If my father thought in a dynastic manner, he would have continued on as a dancer to please his elder brother Uday Shankar, one of the most significant artists of our times. And we would have lost out on one of the greatest musicians we’ve ever known as a result. I will honour my father by honouring my dreams, I will follow him by following my own true path, and I hope to continue, in my own humble way, his mission of exposing new audiences to the beauty and spirituality of our classical music heritage. I may not do a fraction of what he’s done, but why does that matter? As enticing as they may be, comparisons are ultimately irrelevant.
I’m sure I don’t need to hammer the point home. Yes, I’ve been lucky. But if you’re reading this paper, if you’re literate, if you can afford this daily news, then so have you. We’re luckier than most people in the world. And if that’s a legacy, then so be it. Perhaps we all owe it to the world to carry forward anything that’s of value in our lives.
Honestly, I’m so very grateful. I’m grateful to have lived the rich life I’ve lived through being my father’s daughter, to have worked with him and performed with him, and most of all, to have received the gift of music from him. I really don’t know what level of commercial success or artistic growth qualifies as doing that gift justice. All I can do is the very best in music that I can, for the rest of my life. Not because I have to, but because I must, for the simple love of it, from the very deepest part of my being.
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