It’s not that I knew him personally but the emotion that is overwhelming me after hearing of his death is visceral. Pandit Ravi Shankar passed away yesterday and although he leaves behind a legacy and treasure of recorded music, his soul leaving this plane has surely left a hole in all of our hearts.
Panditji studied with my guru’s guru, Ali Akbar Khan, under Allauddin Khan. When my guru, David Trasoff, tells me stories of the old days of their studies, I’m taken back to 1940s India. I picture them young and joyful, completely immersed in ragas and God’s movement within them. I’m taken back to a time when the Guru-Shishya Parampara was still intricately linked to a spiritual mentorship. A purity of humble study and total focus. A lost art and one conceivably unattainable in American life. Who is willing to sacrifice in such ways? Which teacher? Which student? Perhaps the parampara in today’s time has to be much more subtle and inferred.
When Khan Sahib passed away in 2009, I saw a new side of David. A softer, more emotional side. As if with Khan Sahib’s passing, David connected to the larger meaning of having studied under a maestro, not just about the music, but about all the life lessons he imparted – some with direct intention and others with casual reference. Certainly I watched David mourn the loss of a tremendous father-figure in his life and as he teaches me today, I have seen his teachings transform from chasing my fingers on a sarod to holding the space open for me to let music overwhelm my heart and soul so that my fingers can follow.
This is what I think of when I think of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and their legacies. The technical skill is but a part of what they leave behind. It’s their never-ending love and joy for music, their commitment to their craft, their understanding that classical art is but an expression of prayer and submission to something much larger than ourselves; that is the inspiration I carry with me.
Motherhood has greatly interrupted my lifelong conversation with music. There are days that I get discouraged and miss those lost, languid hours caressing ragas. I concede that I was never willing to forsake all else for classicism – motherhood staked its claim much stronger than music. But with the passing of Ravi Shankar Ji comes the remembrance that in this meditation of Life, there is always time to come back to your instrument, re-introduce yourself, offer a humble apology for the lost time and surrender to the next Raag.