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Spiced Reality

Partho Datta

By Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay
Roli Books, Delhi, 2005, pp. 190, Rs. 295.00


The author of this book, Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay became well-known when his short biography of sitarist Nikhil Bannerjee [1930-1986] was serialized in the Bengali literary magazine Desh, subsequently published as Taar Chirey Gyacche Kobey [“The Strings Broke Long Ago”, Ananda Publishers, Calcutta,1994]. This interesting little book based on interviews and some primary research provoked a lively controversy in the letters column of Desh. Ravi Shankar wrote that even he had tutored Nikhil Bannerjee. This was met with much scepticism and seen as another claim to the genius of the dead maestro. In 1999, Bondyopadhyay published Annapurna. But this time round his book was a disappointment. Some attempt at genuine research in the archives produced only irrelevant information. The records of Maihar State for instance failed to throw any light on Allaudin Khan or his daughter’s early years. Bondyopadhyay lacked the skill to integrate diverse information. Annapurna’s life was clearly based on oral interviews which were dangerously one-sided. It did not help matters that Annapurna who has led a life of a recluse in Bombay, is famously unapproachable and truculent. Worse, the book had little to offer on music. And now the same is available in an English incarnation.   Annapurna’s story is cast in the mould of the wronged woman. The immensely talented daughter of the great Allaudin Khan, she was married off when still in her teens to his disciple, the upcoming sitarist Ravi Shankar in 1941. A child was born soon after, but the marriage floundered. In his candid autobiography in Bengali Raag Anuraag (which still remains untranslated) Ravi Shankar claimed that he was attracted to young Kamala Chakraborty (who later became his companion). Rapprochement never happened and Annapurna began the life of an abandoned wife reconciled to her fate. In 1970 her only son, Subho settled in America. In 1982 she married her disciple Rooshikumar Pandya. In 1992 her son tragically died. Except in the 1950s Annapurna never graced the public stage. Instead she chose to be a teacher of music in Bombay and groomed many famous disciples. The flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia is her most prominent shishya today.   The mystery of her abrupt withdrawal from public life, especially concert performances has over the years added to the Annapurna mystique. A few years ago the columnist Alif Surti wrote a long essay in Man’s World about his quest for Annapurna. Needless to say he never got her darshan. The late ...

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