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His shehnai had a Khalifa touch

india Updated: Aug 22, 2006 00:09 IST

CAN YOU believe it? Ustad Bismillah Khan worked for the All India Radio in Lucknow years ago. Just for Rs 28 per month!

He took initial tips on shehnai from Ustad Ahmed Khalifa of Lucknow, claims noted shehnai player Ustad Sartaj Khan, who is also a distant relative of the Ustad. “Khan saheb participated in the music festival held at an exhibition in the city during his childhood. There he was awarded a gold medal for his emotional flights. In 1940 he formed a group of his own and started giving public performances. During this period, he gave a few performances on the Lucknow station of the All India Radio. Later, he became an international celebrity,” recalls Ustad Sartaj Khan.

“He loved to play kabaddi in the vacant plot in the AIR premises in the evenings. But, he was emotional, humble and a true friend.” That’s how Doordarshan director SK Grover remembers the Ustad.

“I have had the rare honour of being associated with him during my tenure at the AIR and the Doordarshan,” says Grover. “I was given the responsibility of inviting the great maestro to perform at the golden jubilee celebrations of AIR in 1988 because he had refused to come at the invitation of the then station director. At that time, I was working as a programme executive and people knew that I had good relations with Khan saheb, as I had worked in Varanasi too. I went to his home and requested him to come to Lucknow for the performance.

He agreed immediately and asked why I had to come all the way from Lucknow.

He told me I should have telephoned him”.

About his fiery temperament, Grover says, “I sent a producer to receive him at the Charbagh railway station but the producer went to a wrong compartment and the Ustad was furious. He refused to perform in the programme. Again I was called by the director. And again the maestro melted and performed for friendship sake”.

Former AIR director KK Nayyar recalls, “I heard we had a good association with the Ustad. But, we don’t have any authentic record to prove that.”

The current AIR station director Gulab Chand says, “Yes! People say he worked for us. He has performed for us a number of times. We have the distinction of recording some of his memorable performances”.

Former Announcer and News Reader of All India Radio Yagya Dev Pandit says, “I have been associated with AIR Lucknow since 1948 to 1988. I made announcements for the maestro on several occasions. He was very humble. As a young enthusiastic man, I often used to ask him what he was going to present so that I could make an announcement.

He used to reply calmly, ‘you just announce what you want to listen’. And he used to play whatever I announced. He knew I was fond of ‘chaiti’ and he never disappointed me.”

Bhatkhande Sangeet (deemed) University Vice-Chancellor Pandit Vidyadhar Vyas says, “Khan Saheb as a great loss for the State. “He was an expert in Dadra, Chaiti, Keherwa, Sawani. Name any form, he was ready with it. My father Pandit Narayan Rao Vyas and Khan Saheb were good friends. My father was nearly 20 years elder to him that’s why Ustad ji used to respect my father and me. My father used to sing jugalbandi with the Ustad.”