Shehnai exponent Ustad Bismillah Khan, who passed away in Varanasi on Monday followinga cardiac arrest, was once the king of wrestling and soccer.
In his youth, Khan made the defence of the Banaras Sporting Club an impregnable fortress. The young man from Dumraon (Bihar) also made his opponents bite dust in the wrestling arena, through crafty moves learnt in the Akhara in Reori Talao locality of Varanasi, which ultimately became his first love.
"We learnt from our parents about the resolute defending of Ustad Bismillah Khan as a young soccer player, while sporting the colours of BSC -- considered the 'red devils' of city soccer," recounted Shahid Ali, secretary of the club founded in 1936 by a British official.
Although age forced Khan to skip the soccer field, he continued to galvanise the younger red devils from the sidelines.
"He had been the club chief patron for the last 10 years, but we will miss the soccer luminary forever, for different reasons than his music fans," Ali maintained.
The skills of young Bismillah, were also polished in the cool but gritty soil of the Akhara at the Benia Bag and Reori Talao.
"Four grappler siblings from Punjab -- Akram, Goga, Rustam and Bhola -- who once ruled the national wrestling arena were conquered by the brawny and astute Bismillah at the Benia Bag Akhara, in the vicinity of which he lies today in final slumber," Ali said.
While the four grapplers from Punjab left the country for Pakistan after partition, they came back to the city in the 1960s, on the back of elephants, only to be greeted by once their conqueror who had by then transformed into a master exponent of Shehnai, he added.
Confirming Ali's memoirs, Khan Sahib's secretary S Javed told UNI that very few, barring the BSC players knew about his sporting talents.
"May be this is what has propelled two Nigerian players presently doing Banaras Sporting duty in local soccer league to catch a glimpse of one of the illustrious stalwarts of the game the city had not known," Javed added.
The sporting prowess of the Ustad, however, appeared to have been accepted by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, who while interacting with media after paying tributes to Khan, said the proposed mini-stadium in Benia Bag could be named after the music icon.