By Anjali Ojha, Varanasi, May 12 IANS | 3 months ago

shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan's family feels "scared" over the way "political atmosphere is building" in Varanasi that witnessed a high-pitched poll battle.


The family of the famed Shehnai player, who was honoured with Bharat Ratna, now finds itself in the midst of a controversy over not backing BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, and later playing shehnai at Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's road show.

Passing through the narrow lanes of Beniyabagh in Varanasi, one can scarcely guess that Ustad Bismillah Khan, one of the greatest classical musicians of India, lived here all his life.

As this IANS correspondent entered the humble building where Bismillah Khan lived and died, his eldest son, Haji Mahtab Hussain, quipped: "All of you who are coming here now, will come back only after five years".

"We don't want to get involved in politics, for us all are the same. Sometimes I feel scared, though, the way political atmosphere is building up," Hussain told IANS.

The room that welcomes one in this modest house has basic furniture, and adorning the walls are the Bharat Ratna and other honours that the stalwart got, as well as several pictures of his concerts.

Hussain sits on a dewan with a couple of medicine boxes.

"We played the shehnai out of happiness, we would play it for Modi ji as well," Hussain told IANS.

"Modi ji is equally important for us, but my father had always supported Congress and we have been traditional Congress voters," he added.

Varanasi witnessed a fierce electoral battle between Modi and Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal.

The shehnai player's residence is the Bismillah Khan Lane that was named after him. This is the same locality where Modi was denied the permission to hold a rally.

The roads are broken, with potholes filled with drain water. Street lights are few, and the roads are lined with numerous shops with imitation jewellery, bangles and trinkets.

"Congress has done a lot for musicians. After the days of royal families were over, artists like us were in a bad state. Congress government started programmes of classical music in All India Radio. They encouraged art and music," Hussain said.

Bismillah Khan's second son Zamin Hussain, though invited by the Bharatiya Janata Party, refused to be the proposer for Modi, and later with some other family members played Mahatma Gandhi's favourite Bhajan "Vaishnav Jan" at a Congress road show here.

"We don't want to get involved in politics, for us all are the same. All we want is to see our father's mausoleum constructed," said Hussain.

The musician's son told IANS that the memorial was promised when his father died in 2006.

"The SP (Samajwadi Party) was in power then, they promised that a mausoleum would be built on his grave. Then the BSP government came, and now SP is back in power again, but nothing has happened. (Congress candidate) Ajay Rai has promised it will be done soon, and if the government does not do it, he will collect donations and complete the work before my father's death anniversary - August 21".

Hussain remembers his father as a simple man, who was once offered by an NRI industrialist a home for his whole family in the US.

"...He declined the offer. He said if you can bring the Kashi Vishwanath temple and Alamgiri Mosque here, I will stay," said Hussain.

Talking about the religious harmony of the city, Husaain said: "My father would do his namaz and then face the Kashi Vishwanath temple and play his shehnai".

He regrets the waning number of classical music aficionados.

"There are hardly five percent people who listen to classical music anymore. I wonder what future holds for musicians," he added.

(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at anjali.o@ians.in)

(Posted on 12-05-2014)