WE ALL know that Ustad Bismilah Khan’s world revolved round his shehnai and the family. But little do we know that his small family comprised 400 odd members and that he remembered the names of each one of them.
His family was not restricted to the non-descript house in Varanasi’s Harha Sarai locality, but spread over 30 other houses. These were the houses of those sangatkars who used to perform exclusively for his uncle Allah Bux and for him.
With age, they stopped accompanying him. However, Khan Saheb continued sending them money. Sending remuneration to these families was his priority even before preparing the budget for his own family at Harai Sarai, where his sons and 40 other members lived together in a joint family. His room, on the top floor of the house had the bare minimum. Among his cot, a chair and an earthen pot for water, his shehnai occupied the place of pride. Not to be missed among these was his personal black diary. It was this diary where he used to record the amount sent to the families of his old sangatkars.
Even in his last years when ill health kept him confined mostly to his house, he would ensure with his administrative secretary Javed that the money had been sent to the families and then put tick marks before the names in the diary.
“He was worried more for his old associates than for his family,” Javed said.
The man, who single-handedly took Shehnai from the marriage mandap and established it as the world famous classical instrument, used to say, “Music is everything and it has given me all”.
Even as he was honoured with doctorate by the Banaras Hindu University and Shantiniketan, Khan had another wish. He wanted school kids to have knowledge of classical music, for he believed, “Music can solve hundred problems and settle war between countries.”
He never wanted anything for himself. If he ever demanded something, it was for his family. In 2003, he had to appeal to the Centre to get a gas agency sanctioned in his grandson’s name.
Those who knew him and visited his house, must have seen a single old wooden chair on the rooftop. It was his favourite piece of furniture in which he used to relax in the winter sun after hours of Riyaz. Though, he provided everything that his family wanted, Khan saheb himself only wanted his Shehnai to remain close to him.
As he used to say, “I will look after the shehnai and you people need not worry.”
A staunch devotee of Godess Saraswati and Balaji, Khan Saheb used to perform in the early morning hours at Balaji Ghat on the bank of Ganga. He would continue his riyaz for hours on the cold and bare floor of the ghat even in winters.