Bismillah's last wish remains unfulfilled
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Bismillah's last wish remains unfulfilled

The maestro was told on Sunday morning that he could play at the India Gate, something he had been yearning to do for a long time.

india Updated: Aug 21, 2006 20:26 IST

Shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan had reportedly got the nod to perform at New Delhi's India Gate some hours before he passed away of cardiac arrest on Monday.

The maestro, who died at age 91 at a private hospital, was told on Sunday morning that he could play at the India Gate, something he had been yearning to do for a long time.

"Sadly, the green signal from the union government came barely 18 hours before he met his end at the Heritage Hospital here," Syed Javed Ahmed, the maestro's personal secretary said.

It was Human Resource Development Minister Arjun Singh who assured Khan on Sunday morning that he was free to play at the Indian Gate whenever he chose to. Arjun Singh had flown down from New Delhi to call on the hospitalised maestro.

Though he was in a state of semi-consciousness, he remembered to express his most cherished desire before Singh. "The minister promptly told him that India Gate would be thrown open for his performance whenever he desired," Khan's closest aide said.

The music wizard had the rare distinction of being honoured with every prestigious national award in the country - Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Padma Vibhushan as well as the ultimate civilian honour, Bharat Ratna.

"Even before he dipped into that state of semi-consciousness, Khan saheb would often talk about playing at the India Gate. He had conveyed his wish to all those who matter, but what always pained him was the lack of response from those quarters."

Yet another anguish that continued to haunt him was the indifference of successive governments to his request for allotment of an LPG agency for one of his grandsons. Bismillah Khan had in the past, urged not only then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee but also then president KR Narayanan to get him a gas distributorship, which could serve as a source of livelihood for his giant-sized joint family, said to number around 70. The family survives on the meagre and erratic royalty received from His Master's Voice (HMV), a leading music company.

Ahmed recalls how Bismillah Khan would often brood, "Isn't it ironical that a gas agency can be released to any Tom, Dick or Harry on one recommendation from a member of parliament or even a legislator, but a similar request from an artiste like me for none other than my own grandson carries no value."

The maestro, for whom music was so divine that he regarded it as another form of "ibaadat" (prayer), was also sore with HMV. "For the past few years HMV has been really lax about the timely payment of my royalty," he had complained in an interview to this reporter a few months ago.

"I am old and in no position to run after them, so my sons and grandsons have been running from pillar to post. But the HMV management has shown utter disregard and indifference," the master musician had pointed out.

First Published: Aug 21, 2006 20:26 IST