Bismillah Khan's last bid remains unfulfilled
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Bismillah Khan's last bid remains unfulfilled

The man who mesmerised generations of Indians with his music wanted to perform at India Gate.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2006 10:21 IST

On India's first Republic Day, Ustad Bismillah Khan had enthralled audiences with a sterling performance from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

But fate did not allow the shehnai maestro to fulfil his last wish, that of playing at India Gate.

The man who mesmerised generations of Indians with his mellifluous music wanted to make the performance a memorable one. But a concert at the venue, scheduled for August 9, was cancelled due to security reasons.

The 91-year-old Bharat Ratna awardee, said to be single- handedly responsible for making the shehnai a famous classical instrument, had earlier alleged he had been denied the opportunity to play at India Gate because he was a Muslim.

However, Khan was quick to point out he never faced any hurdles on account of being a Muslim.

"Music has no caste. I have received love and affection all over the world. The government has given me all the four highest civilian awards in the past five decades," he said.

Khan was born on March 21, 1916. His ancestors were court musicians in the princely state of Dumraon in Bihar and he was trained under his uncle, the late Ali Bux 'Vilayatu', a shehnai player attached to Varanasi's Vishwanath Temple.

Where others saw conflict and contradiction between his music and his religion, Bismillah Khan saw only a divine unity. Even as a devout Shia, he was also a staunch devotee of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of music.

During his long and fruitful career as an artiste, Khan enthralled audiences at performances across the globe. He was honoured with the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, the Tansen award as well as the Padma Vibhushan.

On August 3, 2006, Khan was given a cheque of Rs 2.51 lakh on behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at Varanasi.

Four years ago, when he did not have money and resources to meet the cost of his needs, the then government arranged for his performance at Parliament Annexe where Khan had to virtually give a charity show for his own benefit.

It was then that Delhi-based couple Neena and Shivnath Jha, who had launched a programme to protect musicians, academicians and artists who brought pride and laurels to the nation, thought of bringing out a monograph on the life and art of the Ustad to extend financial support to him.

Their movement gained a victory of sorts after the Centre allowed Khan to play 'Tune India' from the India Gate to pay tribute to the "unsung heroes of World War-I and for the global peace and security".

However, the programme was cancelled due to security reasons. His other wish, to perform at Darbhanga, where he had spent a considerable period of his early days, also remained unfulfilled.

The Ustad was identified with the shehnai but found the greatest fulfilment in singing bhajans to children.

"The applause that I get from children when I sing the bhajan 'Raghupati Raghav Rajaram' gives me the greatest fulfilment," Khan had said in 2004 while performing at a cultural programme in New Delhi to mark Gandhi Jayanti.

Khan said it gave him tremendous satisfaction to know that at least some of the children will remember the "old man" for the song that he sang for them.

First Published: Aug 21, 2006 10:21 IST