Sweet solitude ANJANA RAJAN Juhi Sinha on her book about Ustad Bismillah Khan. PHOTO:SANDEEP SAXENA SONOROUS NOTES Juhi Sinha, author of “”Bismillah Khan – The Maestro from Benaras“, in New Delhi. Having made films on a range of subjects, Juhi Sinha one year also turned her camera on Bismillah Khan. Her book, “Bismillah Khan — The Maestro from Benaras” recently released by Niyogi Books, contains much of the material she gathered at the time of making the film. Though writing is not new to her, she has lately been writing more scripts in Hindi and English than books. With Bismillah, she has returned to the pen, and her book on the monsoon is ready for publication. The author, whose family belongs to Varanasi, speaks fondly of the unique culture of the place, saying, “Reverence for good food, music, for paan, the special sweets of Benaras, the festivals, all of these are what bind the community,” she says, pointing out that like Bollywood is a community of filmmakers, regardless of religion or community, the musicians of Benaras too are bound by music only. Edited excerpts from a conversation with the author. On Bismillah Khan’s personality Secular was a word you can’t use in connection with Bismillah, because he is way above that. The film “Bismillah and Benaras” is done very well, the main reason being that he is such a charismatic personality. I have met all the members of the family. Nobody had that kind of easy charm he had. On the making of the book The film was premiered at the Osian film festival at The Oberoi, New Delhi. The Niyogis were there and they wanted it made into a book. They wanted the same kind of thematic structure as the film. On Bismillah Khan’s lack of successors The second son was the one from whom he had the greatest hopes. But Nayyar Husain maybe didn’t have it in him, or he didn’t get the training. I heard him playing, and he was good, but he was not consistent. He died at 67. It’s a shame. There was no one he could transfer his training and skill to. You can’t transfer genius, but you can transfer these things. There were many reasons for this (that he had no musical successors). The kind of one-to-one relationship he had with his guru and uncle Ali Bux, he couldn’t give his children. (But) It is baffling why he was not able to train at least one person who could carry on the tradition. He made them sing paltas (vocal exercises) for 18 years and got on with his own riyaaz. He was still young while his children were growing up and must have been busy making a name for himself. He himself practised at the Balaji temple and his children were not there. (Whereas) he lived with his mama (Ali Bux). In the middle of the night his mamu would call him to massage his feet. It was really an excuse to talk of music, give a lesson. His uncle kept a strict eye on his riyaaz, in a way he (Bismillah) could not supervise his children. Jagdish Pratap (son of a nafiri player) was his disciple and lived with the family for years. But he could not become a concert level player. His daughter also learnt the shehnai, but she did not become a concert player either, perhaps because as a woman she got busy with family, etc. Had he seen that spark — commitment, passion, involvement, with music, that here is something I can spend my life doing (in his children and disciples) — he might have given them more time. Having said that it’s also true they were relegated to the background most of their lives. His contribution to shehnai playing The tones of the shehnai before were very different. There were very straight notes; it was almost strident. He brought in the gayaki ang. (It was also due to his vocal training.) If you see the film, you see he sings so effortlessly. He could see there’s a place on the concert stage for the shehnai, and he worked very hard to reach there. T.R. Mahalingam who did something similar to the Carnatic flute, spawned a revolution, but Bismillah remained an individual… Number one, it’s not an easy saaz (instrument) to play. It’s not yet found its place on the concert circuit. The returns were not guaranteed. Bismillah knew there was not much of a future. Changing profile of arts and artistes Wives play a big role as managers (of their artiste husbands — an advantage Bismillah did not have). They now see it as a profitable profession too. Nobody can see it as just an offering anymore. I’ve done a film on Rajasthan where so many (traditional) artists, if you ask them are you going to teach your children, they said no. Their children even worked as factory hands. But as the arts became popular, and more and more havelis (requiring traditional crafts) came up, they became interested.


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