The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Power vacuum for Bismillah

New Delhi, Aug. 7: Eighty-seven and in a wheelchair, Bismillah Khan made it before time from Varanasi to play the shehnai at Parliament.

It was not clear how keen Parliament was to hear him. Balayogi Auditorium in the House was neither packed nor power-packed.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not turn up because he had a mild fever. His deputy L.K. Advani was not there either. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam did go, but 15 minutes behind schedule and his deputy, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, was another no-show.

Arriving at the auditorium well in time, Khan waited for the VVIPs to come and fill the vacant chairs to start his jugalbandi with vocalist Soma Ghosh. Perhaps, this was not the best of beginnings.

He did not show it, though, as the “ras barse” (harmony through music) programme got underway with the evening raag yaman.

“I am a devotee of melody. It’s just a sound. But when you hear it, you forget everything,” Khan said.

There were flashes of the maestro’s shehnai at its best. The audience, consisting of Speaker Manohar Joshi, finance minister Jaswant Singh and Opposition leader Sonia Gandhi, acknowledged it, too.

“But what is saawan without the Benarasi kajari'” Khan went on to render two kajaris. If that was not delightful enough, he opted for a solo based on raag purvi.

The momentum was picking up for a mesmerising evening with Khan’s shehnai. But age was starting to tell.

He was already taking deep breaths. It got the better of the legend: “Main thak gaya hun (I am tired),” he pleaded.

The audience would have liked Bismillah Khan’s shehnai to go on and on and not come to an end after just 45 minutes.

When the concert ended, Kalam walked up to the dais to shake hands with Khan.

Shiv Sena parliamentary party leader Chandrakant Khaire presented a cheque of Rs 2 lakh from Bal Thackeray and Rs 1 lakh from party MPs.

Khan, whose financial plight and ill-health drew nationwide attention recently, had been given a grant of Rs 2 lakh by the Prime Minister.

“I go in search of melody,” Khan said as he left the auditorium.

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