Ustad Bismillah Khan
The September issue of Sruti which featured Ustad Bismillah Khan kindled nostalgic memories in me about my contacts with the shehnai maestro. I was working as the Chief Commercial Superintendent of the Northern Railway at New Delhi for five years from 1966. The Ustad used to approach me very often for reservation of train accommodation from New Delhi to Varanasi. He used to perform regularly at the Tansen Festival organised by N.P. Seshadri of the National Cultural Organisation. All that Khan wanted was an eight-seater Second class compartment. When I asked him why he did not travel by- First class he said, "Saheb, we are a party of eight and we are like the members of a family. If I travelled First leaving the others in the Second class, I am likely to be mistaken, Secondly, wherever I am I must perform namaaz five times a day. Performing namaaz in a First class compartment in the presence of other unknown passengers will be highly embarrassing." He used to insist upon coming personally to my office as train accommodation was very difficult to get in those days and I had an emergency quota under my control.
Years later I met the Ustad at the studio of All India Radio at Ahmedabad when I had gone to meet M.R. Gautam, who was the Producer of music. The studio was recording the raga Malkauns played by the maestro for five minutes, ten minutes, and fifteen minutes, to suit different programmes. After the recording was over, the Ustad asked us whether we had any urgent work as otherwise he would like to play Malkauns for one hour which should not however be recorded. We agreed and when the news spread, the entire staff of the studio came to listen to Khan Saheb. He mesmerised the audience by the purity of sound which emanated from his instrument. It is a pity that he did not permit his play to be recorded. Khan is no more and it is surprising that there is none who can be even remotely compared to the one and only Bismillah Khan.