The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shehnai silent, blood talks
- Ustad Bismillah Khan inspires minorities to turn donors

Varanasi, March 9: Fifty-six years ago, he had greeted the birth of a secular republic from the Red Fort by pouring his soul into raga Kafi. But when the bombs targeted that secular fabric on March 7, for a while the music stopped for Ustad Bismillah Khan.

Till the 90-year-old shehnai legend hit on an idea to restore for himself and his hometown the sense of harmony that has been the lifeblood of his music.

He issued an appeal that has now inspired scores of Muslim men and women to donate their blood to save the lives of the injured, who are overwhelmingly Hindus.

“He hadn’t been touching his shehnai since March 7. He was restless. He prayed for peace,” a relative said. “He is a private person, but the blasts had clearly jolted him out of his normally serene state of mind.” So the ustad dictated the appeal that was spread across the town by his army of pupils, associates and admirers with help from social organisations.

As doctors and Muslim bodies welcomed the initiative that is certain to save many lives, they said they also expected it to help prevent any communal tension arising from the blasts.

The message drew over 150 Muslims last evening itself to Varanasi’s main blood bank, run by the Indian Medical Association. “At least 30 of them were women,” said the chief of its local unit, Dr Sanjay Rai.

Many more came today. Over a dozen Muslim organisations have joined the effort to mobilise donors.

Bismillah’s family and friends are organising a blood donation camp at Dalmadi near his home.

“This is the least we could have done to save our brethren and our culture of brotherhood,” said Javed Ahmed, a relative. Bismillah, he added, “is most happy and said he would try to be present at the camp”.

“The secular-minded Muslims are hurt and distressed by the suffering caused by the terrorist organisation’s act,” said Khalid Siddique, a community leader. “We are against bloodshed and want to make it clear that we are solidly behind our Hindu friends here.”

Dr Sunil Kumar Singh at the IMA blood bank said the city’s normal requirement of blood is 50 units a day, but has now risen to about 150 units. “We are particularly thankful to Khan Saheb for inspiring people to donate blood.”

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