Sitar teacher of New York

Hani Yousuf in Himal Southasian:

Sitar_ny Sitting on the floor of an ashram in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Ikhlaq Hussain tuned his student’s sitar, with his fingers passing over the strings. This is how he likes to begin his lessons. His student, Satch, is a yoga teacher and started to learn the sitar five years ago at the behest of his spiritual guru. Hussain sat bare-footed and cross-legged, clad in an orange tunic with vertical embroidery along the chest. He unscrewed one of two carved knobs on top of the instrument, rubbing a bit of blue chalk on it and then screwed it back into place. He fiddled some more, tightening the strings, his fingers checking to see whether they sing to his tune yet. Then, finally, a burst of melody. ‘I was waiting for that,’ said Satch with a slight laugh. This had been a stressful week for him, he said, but the sitar helped to calm him down. Satch said that Hussain has turned out to be a very different teacher than he had expected. ‘He didn’t teach me every single vibration,’ he said. ‘But he gave me a very solid structure. He’s very humble – he gives what he has learned from his father.’

Hussain moved to New York City from Karachi in October 2001, weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center. What sealed the deal was a 1999 visit to the US to perform for a fashion show being put together by Pakistani designer Noorjehan Bilgrami. At the time, home was becoming more frustrating by the minute: Pakistan, Hussain said, was an artistic and financial vacuum. In case the American dream turned out to be a nightmare, he told himself, he could always go back. By the time he got around to it, Muslims in New York were feeling particularly vulnerable, and his family and friends advised him not to make the move. Nonetheless, he packed his sitar and boarded a flight to New York, coming in on a tourist visa but eventually being granted a ‘green card’ for permanent residency due to his exceptional musical ability.

More here. (Note: Congratulations to dear friends Ikhlaq and Judit)