Monday, August 21, 2006

Ustad Bismillah Khan

Photo: From The Hindu


"How could I have slept in the cool comfort of the a/c when my neighbour Ramzan Ali poured buckets of water on his `tattar' [made of tin] for keeping the heat away in the summer," he asked.

The he referred above is Ustad Bismillah Khan, who moved on to an entirely different stage to play for the very same ganga-maiyya and baba vishwanath, that were so dear to him. The above quote sort of personifies both the person and his way of life. Many times we hear of great people who led a simple life, but rarely we get to see that in the way they look also. Ustad was one such person.

Long before I even knew what a shenai is and who is its ustad, I had a long love affair with the shenai music that preceded the beginning of any Doordarshan transmission. In early eighties, when I was in elementary school, there were no 24 hour TV channels and I was so crazy about TV. I would start watching a well 15-30 mintues even before the symbol accompanied by Ustads' shenai announced the beginning of the program.

Music has this enormous capability to drown you, but at the same time raise your spirits so much, you feel very much overwhelmed. That over whelming feeling is inexplicable. Ustads like Bismillah Khan gave them in plenty to whomever were fortunate enough to hear their music. After the death of MS, we have lost another of those pre-independence era grown stalwart.

4 comments:

tilotamma said...

You are right - we have lost another person like MS.

terrywhatlee said...

Strangely (strange even to myself) I didn't admire him for his music probably because I never could appreciate the sound of the shehnai itself. He played very nicely and skillfully and I feel unqualified to even comment about it but that is how it is. Whenever I hear it to this day, I am transported to the aura of a ceremonious event like a dignitary's visit to the Rashtrapati Bhavan, a marriage, a death. For me it is a situation or memory based music rather than music for all and any time.

Probably because I heard the shehnai only during such occasions. Much like the Nadaswaram of the Tamil Nadu.

I used to go to the World Book Fair every year when in Delhi and it used to be held in Pragati Maidan. I used to leave the fair when it closed for the day in the evening and in the fading light, they used to start playing the Ustad's piece across the maidan and it was somehow very refreshing and sad at the same time.

Rather than post separately about the Ustad, I decided to comment on your post. I too admired him a lot for his humility and his simple way of life. I once heard that anyone could stop by his house and would not be denied a meal and place to sleep for the night.

Somehow Ustad Bismillah Khan feels very dear and close to us rather than a person whom we are in awe of and we put up on a pedestal, if you know what I mean.

Ramadoss Magesh said...

Dear Narasimhan,

I remembered the comment my Tamizh Vathiyar in college used to mention about the film background music in general..

" Siricha Sithar
Setha Shenai"

Given my total unfamiliarity with his music, I have nothing to say about him. But this aspect of grouping MS-Khan category lead me to this thought..

Every article talks of the mans simplicity and the glorification of this aspect and I really hope that its not like the divinity that was thrust upon MS..

Best regards,
Magesh

Narasimhan said...

I think it is mostly the simplicity of the Ustad that endeared him to many people and as such his music is something that came to be identified with man himself.

Magesh, I don't think divinity was thrust upon Bismillah Khan, though he himself was a very religious man. Especially, being a muslim from the holy city of kashi made lot of things similar to what was thrust upon MS.

I think MS's being a disciple of the Paramacharya gave lot of credence to her divine status, apart from the suprabatham and vishnu sahasranamam.

To me Shehnai will always be identified through Bismillah khan and the doordarshan transmission theme music.

Touching on the topic background music, in many films ilaiyaraja has used nadaswaram to bring out the intensity of the scene, most notably in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi. Kamal and Gemini Ganesh are arguing against each other, almost to blows and suddenly, the nadhaswaram played by his dumb brother, pierces through your heart. It is difficult not to get choked in that scene.

With Regards
narasimhan