In Oliver Caske, Shankar has attracted a biographer who understands the intricacies of classical Indian music and the labyrinths of a culture that believes there’s no enterprise that can’t be improved by being made more complicated – religion, language, family trees, music, railway timetables. His portrait of a restless, often melancholic genius is appropriately exhaustive, involving 130 fresh interviews and 100 pages of credits. There is much to explain... Craske handles the niceties of Shankar’s personal life with diplomacy while staying focused on his subject’s musical mission and lifelong hunger for spiritual fulfilment. He wears his expertise lightly and his passion on his sleeve; a winning combination for a definitive work.
With access to his many hundreds of letters to lovers such as the musician Kamala Chakravarty and photojournalist Marilyn Silverstone, Craske paints a fascinating picture of what Shankar has termed his ensuing “butterfly lifestyle” of promiscuity: “Multiple relationships, all passion, no commitment,” he explains. “Often he used his letters to express erotic desire for Kamala, switching from English to Bengali for the more explicit lines, which he playfully liked to punctuate with a modified exclamation mark in the shape of a phallus.”
Of all the astonishing things that happened in the 1960s, the transformation of Ravi Shankar into global superstar and hippy hero is one of the hardest to explain to anyone who wasn’t there. Yet Oliver Craske’s superlative biography — the fruit of 130 interviews, exhaustive research on three continents and six years’ writing — achieves that and much more. Shankar’s protean 80-year career as mesmerising boy-dancer and virtuoso instrumentalist, joyous composer and inexhaustible Casanova is narrated in revelatory detail.