Fourteenth February 1974 was an ill-fated day for Hindustani mosic because it lost two great stalwarts on the same day. Pt. Srikrishna Narayan Ratanjankar succumbed to protracted illness. Ustad Amir Khan in the height of his form and fame, was tragically killed in a car accident. Although in his early sixties the Ustad was still a force to reckon with in North Indian music, and had it not been for that grievous accident, he might have easily gone on dominating the music world for another decade or s_. The world of Indian music went into mourning on 13th February 1974, and there were public condolence-meet~ ings in numerous cities. Programmes of tributes to the two departed maestros were broadcast from all the important Stations of All India Radio.
Born in April 1912 in Kalanaur, Amir Khan began his musical training as a Sarangi-disciple of his own father Ustad Shahmir Khan, a noted Sarangi player who had learnt his art from Chajju Khan and Nazir Khan of the Bhindibazar gharana. Amir Khan's early grooming in Sarangi was only the founda= tion of his musical edifice. He had a vision and imagination of his own for higher artistic flights. Being a reputed artiste and a warm friendly person, Shahmir Khan's hospitable home was a veritable rendezvous of many great contemporary maestros like Ustads Allabande Khan, Jafruddin, Nasiruddin Khan, Been kar Wahid Khan, Rajab Ali Khan, Hafeez Khan, Saran gi~nawaz Bundu Khan, Beenkar Murad Khan and several others. ~fhus, although Amir Khans's early musical training commenced with Sarangi, the impressionable and intelligent youngster was constantly exposed to the various vocal gharanar. of the times. Gradually, Shahmir Khan himself began to devote more time to Amir Khan's vocal training in which merakhand (or Khandmeru) practice and sargam-singing were specially emphasised. Moulded by the styles of three great giants of his younger days, namely, Ustads Bahre Wahid Khan, Rajab Ali Khan and Aman Ali Khan, Amir Kban evolved - his own stylistic school which came to be known as "tho Indore Gharana."
In fact, Amir Khan was a self-taught musician. He assimilated the distinctive features of the gayakis that appealed to his aesthetic sense and were in perfect accord with his voice. -The style that he evolved was a nnique fusion of intellect and emotion, of technique and temperament, of talent and imagination. His style was a synthesis of three different styles. He .assimilated the colour and spirit of Wahid Khan's style, (with its chastity of swara intonation and a richly soporific effect of melodic elaboration) so well that Ustad Wahid Khan blessed him. "Long shall my mnsic live in yon after I am gone". The slow Khayal is rendered in such a slow tempo that it has "the langonr of unfinished sleep." l'his style originated in the Merokhand style of the Bhindibazar- gharana. This generally strove to produce the permutations and combinations of a giver set of notes. Ihese are like mathematical exercises with little artistic effect in a concert. The development of the Vilambit Khayal was marked by deep serenity. The concept of an extra slow tempo with a slow and meticulous unfolding of the raga and the "cheez" was taken from Ustad Bahere Wahid Khan. His taans were clearly influenced by the eloquent ones of Lstad Rajab Ali Khan in sargam-singing, he reveated his admiration for Ustad Aman Ali Khan.
During his early sojourn in Bombay, Amir Khan had be= come a close friend of Late Aman Ali Khan. Amir Khan always maintained that had Aman Ali Khan lived longer he would have been the former's "confrere in the world of music". This newly amalgamated "Indore" style of Ustad Amir Khan captivated and induenced a whole generation of younger musicians of all categories through the contemplative and reposeful beauty of his slow, leisurely Badhat (elaboration) enlivened by the "exuberance of his proliferating sargams" and rnshing taans. So tremendous has been the impact of his distinc tive "gayaki" on the rising generation of yonng Hindustani vocaiists that Amir Khan commanded a large following among the younger aspirants. He no longer remained as an isolated individual. For years, he remained one of the most sought after classical vocalists of his times. What set him apart from his contemporary artistes was the fact that he never made any concessions to popular tastes, but always stuck to his pure, almost puritanical, highbrow style. "His music combined the massive dignity of Dhruvapad with the ornate vividness of Khayal". There are some musicians of the Kirana school who argue that the words of the Khayals are of no importance! But Amir Khan held different views. He used to say:"The poetic element in Khayal is as vital as its melodic element. An artiste has to have a poet's imagination to be a good musician". Amir Khan has proved that "chaste, refined music does not lack listener-response", for, he strictly remained uncontaminated by the present craze for showiness.
The tall, handsome Ustad had a dignified concert presence His dignity of bearing and his posture of Yogic calm on the stage struck a perfect accord with the serene grandeur of his music. It was as though his musical thought was in tune with some ideal of beauty and he was striving to communicate it to his. charmed andience". As Prof Sushil Kumar Saxena wrote (in the Sangeet Natak Akademi Jonrnal 31) "An Amir Khan swara was at once a tuning of the self, a calm that spreads,. while Ghulam Ali's glows with a pulpy luminosity".
Amir Khan's forte was the exaggeratedly slow or ati vilambit Khayal which he developed in a most leisurely mood with deep serenity and contemplativeness. While his ardent admirers found this part of his concert absolutely engrossing, there were others who found it "excruciatingly slow" or even "insipid"! He always avoided Sarangi accompaniment, and wanted nothing more than a steady, plain Theka from his Tabla accompanist. His favourite slow talas were Jhoomra and Tilwada. Words were subservient to the "absolute music "that he sang, and naturally, "bol-alaps" and "Bol tuans" were conspicuously absent in his singing. In the course of his prolonged unfolding of the vilambit Khayal asthayi, Amir Khan would sometimes render flashing "meteoric taans". His' taans" were marked by many graces like elegant gamaks. Iahak and clear "duanas" (clarity of each note). it was natural that the Ustad always chose highly serious, expansive, traditional ragas like Todi, Bhairav, Lalit, Marwa, Puriya, Malkauns, Kedara, Darbari, Multani, Poorvi, Abhogi, Chandrakauns and so on. Even the lighter ragas like Hamsadhwani acquired a serious expansive mood when rendered by Amir Khan. His rich, mellow voice was at its best in the deep, dignified "mandra" notes (lower notes). His voice had some inherent limitations, but he shrewdly evolved a style to suit his voice.
Summing up the essence of his father's vocal style, Ekram Ahmad Khan (the eldest son of the Ustad) wrote:
"Amongst the elder maestros of music, Khan Saheb was intensely devoted to Rajab Ali Khan of Dewas, and Aman Ali Khan of Bhindibazar. He also studied the styles of Bahere Wahid Khan and Abdul Karim Khan and amalgamated the essence of the styles of these four maestros with his own intellectual approach to music, and conceived what is now known as the Indore gharana of music".
During the first 25 years of his life, Amir Khan devoted considerable time to sargam-singing, what is known as "Merukhand practice" consisting of varied permutations and combinations of kaleidoscopic swara-patterns. These complicated "Khandameru" sargams, and flashing meteoric taans brightened his reposeful vilambit Khayals now and then. The "Merukhand" style of singing is mentioned in the 14th century Sanskrit classic Sangeeta-ratnakara of Sarangdeva.
Another significant aspect of Amir Khan's art imparting it a unique quality, was his refined voice and the way he moulded it to suit his chosen style. Endowed with the face of an intellectual, his temperament, like his music, was serene, unruffled. He never lost his temper. He extended the same courtesy to all, big and small, and listened attentively to even lesser artistes. Humility was native to him, his judgements were generous, and he was above petty jealousies.
Although Amir Khan never rendered Thumris in his concerts, his disciples speak of the exquisite way in which he rendered Thumris for them in his intimate home-circle. His "cultured" voice was suited for the melodious Thumri style also. Amir Khan's sole concession to the speed-loving contemporary listeners was the Tarana in which he did consider-able research. According to him, the Tarana syllables have a mystical significance. Although his voice was at its best in
the lower ootes, it could also soar and sweep across far-off swaras with nimble grace, Such was the influence of his music that in an era of impatient listeners, Ustad Amir Khan was able to instil, by the example of his own art, a genuine and widespread love for serious, contemplative music into the hearts of yonug music lovers all over the country. He was strongly against the idea of any short-cuts to success in music.
Even when Amir Khan did playback singing for some films, he refused to cut adrift from his classical moorings. The songs he rendered were always in highly classical style and in ragas like Darbari, Adana, Megh, Desi, Puriya Dhanasri etc. In his tribute the Ustad, Prof'S.K. Saxena writes in the Sangeet Natak Akademi Journal:
"Amir Khan was different and solitary because of his absolute indifference to the reactions of his audience while he was singing. He never seemed to make a conscious endeavour to please the audience. He faced them majestically, with his music alone, and with pure classicality-- Often his musi_ seemed strangely disembodied from raga- tala distinctions into a kind of musical incense borne aloft on the very wings of devotion-- His music, at its best, was rarely a dazzle. It would be rather an inflnence, an atmosphere which would just be with us till long after the recital".
There was a time when Amir Khan was a rage in Calcutta, and no music conference there was complete without his recital. The Films Division of the Government of India has brought out a documentary film on his life in recognition of his great contribution to Hindustani music. For his eminence as a performing artiste and for his significant contributions to classical music, he was crowned with many honours such as the Fellowship of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the Presidential Award, Padma Bhushan (1971) and the Swar Vilas from Sur Singar Samsad (1971). But these honours aud his large following in the music world left him untouched. Amir Khan ~continued to be a very simple individual "accessible to all and sundry", and he never assumed any airs like some of his contemporaries. Though not educated inthe formal sense, he was a highlysophisticated personwhomoved with dignity in the highest society where he was genuinely revered. It was considered a privilege to be his friend. Through his own efforts, he learnt Hindi, Urdu, Persian and a bit of Sanskrit, and he studied the writings of Guru NaDak, Vivokananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and others. Khan Saheb's son Ekram Ahmad Khan writes that it was these studies and his close friendship with Narayan Swami (of Calcutta) thatled to his unique blend of Sufism. "Khan Sabeb", writes his son, _ was a Sufi in the true sense of the word-~= a man without any specific religious ties, a man totally devoted to the oneness of mankind, a true citizen of the World". Amir Khan was a good composer and some of his compositions reflect these religious convictions of his. One instance is "Lanj rakh lijyo mori, Saheb, Sattar, Nirankar, Jai kc Danta, Tu Rahccm Ram Teri maaya aparampar, Mohe tore karam pc audhar Jag kc duata~
Whenever I heard Amir Khan singing the Khayal in Bairagi beginning with the words-- "Man sumirat nis din tumharo naam",I felt that the words and the spirit of the raga were most aptly snited for Amir Khan's musical temperament.
Since 1968, Khan Saheb used to go to U.S.A in alternate years to spend the snmmer with his son Ekram Ahmad Khan, a graduate in chemical engineering from McGill Umversity, who has settled down in U.S.A as an Engineering Manager in Canada. Amir Khan also used to go as a visiting professor of music at the State University of New York at New Pattz where "he planted not only the seeds of his music among the students, but also left behind the legacy of his Sufi philosophy".
Unassuming in his ways, Amir Khan had the capacity to adjust himself perfectly to his environments. He seemed equally at home among the hurnble as well as among the highly sophisticated. What a pity that this great artiste was snatched away in the peak of his career! Here was a rare classicist who sustained his art by pure devotion, and yet enjoyed wide popularity.
Even now, more than 7 years after his untimely death. Amir Khah's music is still a living force because his vo.ce is being frequently heard over AlR through his recordings in the Archives and his Long Playing Records. The Indore gharana of Amir Khan continues to live on through his pupils like Amarnath, Kanan, Srikant Bakre, Singh Brothers, Kankana Banerji, Poorabi Mukherji and others. There are many others whose singing has been obviously coloured by the style of Amir Khan. The singer is gone, but his music is still with us.