The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Atal all ears for Bismillah

Varanasi, June 20: Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee today granted Rs 2 lakh from the National Relief Fund for the treatment of shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan.

The 87-year-old Ustad, who has been ailing for some time, had written to Vajpayee twice asking for urgent financial help.

“The government that awarded me the Bharat Ratna seems to have forgotten me,” he had said in his small house in a crowded Varanasi lane a few days ago.

The heatwave across the country has taken its toll on Khan’s frail health. Varanasi had been boiling hot last week at 45 degrees Celsius.

“I don’t feel strong any more. I suffered a heatstroke recently. I have asked the government to give me some financial help so when I am unable to perform, there will be some money to look after myself and my grandchild,” the maestro said.

Living in a sparsely furnished room, which has only a small bed, lantern and telephone, Khan is undeterred by the heat and lack of medical treatment.

“Pray to God that I regain my strength and come back to normal. I will perform for you then and charge only a fraction of what I charge now,” he said.

Concerned neighbours have been persuading him to buy an air-cooler. But Khan is too modest a man to change his lifestyle now.

“I come from a poor family. We did not have any such thing then. Why should I buy all these now'” Luxuries, he said, don’t befit his way of living.

Born on March 21, 1916, in a family of court musicians in the princely state of Dumraon in Bihar, Khan trained under his uncle, the late Ali Bux, a shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s Vishwanath temple.

“I played shehnai in Balaji temple for 18 years. Eighteen years of practice is bound to bring some fruit,” he says.

The Ustad had poured his heart out in raga Kafi from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the eve of the country’s first Republic Day parade.

He sees divine unity between his music and religion. “Music, sur, namaz are the same,” he says.

Though a devout Shia, Khan is a staunch devotee of Saraswati, the goddess of music.

Awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the Tansen award, the maestro who has left the world a rich musical legacy that can never be forgotten says: “I am grateful to the nation for honouring me.”

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