By Simmy Makhijani
Within weeks of moving to San Francisco from the East Coast, I met by happenstance several of Khansahib’s students and next thing I knew I was standing on line at the Ali Akbar College of Music registering for a vocal class, despite not being a singer! During the span of about ten years, I would continue, though less and less as I got buried in a PhD and the co-founding of a youth music and arts center in Oakland. Yet still, whenever I would see Khansahib he would encourage me – “even if you don’t have time to practice, keep coming to class.”
What Khansahib offered us all, indiscriminately, was a path, a lineage, a sonic breadcrumb trail of struck sound, ahata, that led to anahata, sound unstruck. The goal – absolute freedom.
Twenty-four years later, those classes, the community that sprouted around them, and the deep teachings that stitched them all together, remains weaved into my heart. Today, as an ethnic studies professor, I cannot separate my pedagogical approach to teaching – the adaptive, relational, and collaborative principles I lean on to find perfect pitch in the classroom – from what we learned at the College. From Khansahib we learned only one-third of the music comes from sound, two-thirds emerges from listening, really listening.
From Khansahib we learned that Indian classical (well known for its microtones) was relational, not like keys in Western music where tunings are tempered. Rather, the notes pull on each other forming a tension that stretches them into slightly different tunings – so the same pattern might live one way in one raga and absolutely another way, in another raga. Therein lies the beauty, the freedom. The music is never fixed, it is always longing, reaching, dancing with the space between.
From Khansahib we learned (by example) that the Indian classical tradition could never be about a spotlight on the personality. It was not about “how high” or “how loud” or “how long” one could take or hold a note—it was and always will be about resonance. Similarly, emancipatory learning that transforms oneself and others cannot be secured through wrote memorizing and delivering of facts and figures, but rather emerges through a space of horizontal listening and authentic presence.
As a practitioner of life, the yoga of music, the yoga of sound, nada, as streamed through Khansahib, continues to circumvallate the heart. In those sacred AACM emerald-green carpeted rooms, all distinctions between inside and outside were blurred; singer, listener, song – solar systems in collusion – the writer, the reader, the poem, the traveler, the traveled, the travel… In those sacred AACM emerald-green carpeted rooms, the music taught us what it was to love without limits.
The music was (and IS) that thrown rope that rescues the soul from a forever gone. Khansahib (and all that he imparted to us) was and will always be the thrown rope that rescues the soul from a forever gone.