November 09, 1998 12:00 PM

She is lured by so many things, pulled in so many different directions,” says Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar about his daughter and musical protégée Anoushka. “I would be happiest if she can keep up the traditions I have guarded.”

For now, they are safe in Anoushka’s capable hands. In fact, on Oct. 20 she released her debut album, Anoushka, five tracks of classical sitar music that her father, who tutored George Harrison during and after his Beatle days, composed and produced. Still, nothing tops the joy she feels jamming with Shankar, 78. “We’re closest onstage,” she says. “I’m focused on what he’s doing, and that tunes me in to who he is.”

Growing up in her native London, New Delhi and, later, Encinitis, Calif., Anoushka, 17, the only child of Ravi and Sukanya Rajan, a former banker whom Ravi married in 1989, learned Indian songs and dances from her mother. At 9, she became her father’s sitar student. “From day one,” says Sukanya, 44, “he found her concentration amazing.” Looks can be deceiving. “It was just kind of tedious,” says Anoushka of those early lessons. “I didn’t hate it. But I didn’t like it.”

As she improved, she grew to love the sitar, a complex ancient instrument with 17 to 21 strings, which she practices up to four hours a day. At the Shankars’ five-bedroom Encinitis spread, the high school senior also plays piano, writes poetry and rocks out to Madonna and Portishead. And, with a little help from a former Beatle she calls Uncle George, she remains grounded. “He told me to stay focused on what I want,” she says. “And what makes me happy.”

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