The union government may have released a stamp in honour of Ustad Bismillah Khan on his second death anniversary on August 21, but the UP government is yet to settle the maestro’s hospital expenses.
The ustad’s family will have paid the bill themselves but for the state government, Khan had made Varanasi his home, which offered to do so when he passed away.
Khan would not have been surprised. Some months before his death he had complained about the Bihar government. It seems in 1994, Lalu Prasad Yadav as chief minister had laid the foundation stone of a community hall to be built in the ustad’s honour at his birthplace which was never built. “I could have built the hall at my own expense, but the Bihar government offered to,” the ustad told me. Now UP has done a Bihar on him too.
On his first death anniversary, the government promised to build a mausoleum in his honour in Varanasi. No work on it has
My late grandfather (our families hailed from the Dumraon princely estate, now in Bihar) used to tell me how Khan gave his first public performances, as a singer, at the age of five. His father Paighambar and grandfather Rasool Bux were both employees of the Dumraon raj. Each time Khan sang the Bhojpuri chaita, Ehi matiya me bhulail hamar motiya he rama (It’s at this spot that I lost my pearl), at the behest of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh, audiences were mesmerised.
Since his family had been employees of the Dumraon royalty, Khan was sometimes accused of hedging the fact that he was born there, preferring to present himself as a lifelong Varanasi resident.
When I asked him about it, he denied any such intention. "Koi apne paidaish ki jagah ko kaise bhool sakta hai? Meri khwaish hai ki us jagah ko ek nazar dekh lun," (How can anyone forget his birthplace? I wish I could visit it once more) he said. However, he never did.