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Location: New Delhi, Delhi, India

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ustad Bismillah Khan: The legend who got everything but what matters most

The shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan is no more. It gives me immense pride to say that I had the opportunity to see him in one of the lanes dotted with zardawallahs (scented chewing tobacco vendors) that lead to the Dashashwamedha Ghat in Varanasi way back in 1994 just the month after I appeared for my higher secondary exams. I had heard so many things about the great Indian musician that I stood in absolute awe when I saw him coming from the opposite side accompanied by an elderly man and a few youngsters whom I thought was his relatives. One of the zardawallahs told me that it was indeed Bismillah Saheb and I suddenly felt like I was seeing a rock star, something like my father facing John Lennon in the 60s. He was wearing cotton kameez and pyjamas and had finely trimmed white beard (which always fascinated me) and the trademark Gandhi topi-like cap that we saw so him in many times. I guess he was coming from attending a formal occasion then.

Anyway, that was 12 years back and I was just 17. I know it would be very hard to believe, but I loved his shehnai and even as a child I remember when one of my maternal uncles asked me to guess who was playing it on the radio, I promptly replied – Ustad Bismillah Khan!

It gives me a lot of grief really to know that though he might have been bestowed the highest civilian award – Bharat Ratna, he died literally in penury. Bismillah Khan himself had this grievance against the government. A man who prided himself to be an Indian, who took Indian classical music to dizzying heights across the world, who mesmerized the entire world with the haunting, electrifying and emotional tunes of his shehnai, a man who had been an epitome of communal harmony in this world deserved much more than what he got.

At least the nation showed the kind of respect the he truly deserved by declaring a day of national mourning and bid him the final farewell with full State honours complete with a 36-gun salute.

Alas! Bismillah Khan got everything life – fame, respect, honours but not what he needed most – a life of relative well-being. Hope he forgives us all.

Bismillah Khan’s legend will live on as long as the shehnai continues to sing.


Blogger vin said...

He died in penury because he could not manage his money well and also I suspect because of his many relatives who do no work and who sponged off him. He himself was a very good natured and talented man who did not differentiate between Hindu and Muslim.

1:32 AM  

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