Samsher Singh, the New Delhi-based music composer and classical vocalist, is a disciple of Pandit Amarnathji and belongs to Ustad Amir Khan's gharana.
While paying his heartfelt tribute to Ustad Bismillah khan, Singh says no other artiste after Sant Kabir has achieved so much in creating a fusion between Hindus and Muslims. His tribute:
My first introduction to Ustad Bismillah Khan's music was through Satyajit Ray's classic, Pather Panchali. In the film, Harihar Ray, a poor farmer, returns to his native village in Bengal from Benares where he had gone to earn his living. Unaware that his daughter had died, he brings a gift for her too. When his wife reveals to him that in his absence their daughter had passed away, Harihar's pain was accentuated in the film dexterously by the music composer Ravi Shankar using Ustad Bismillah Khan's shehnai. Ustad Bismillah Khan narrated through his music a bereaved father's shock and gloom.
That piece of music haunted me for years.
I started understanding the nuances of his music when I attended his live performances in New Delhi.
He would perform regularly at the annual festival of the Shankarlal Music Centre in Delhi's Modern School in the '60s and later at the Kamani auditorium. His was a divine performance that could absorb you, transfix you and take you to another world. Once, in the late '60s, I went up to him after the performance to touch his feet. I told the maestro how much I adore his music, He said, "Beta, I feel like a child myself. I am keen to immerse myself in the ocean of music but so far I have only been able to moisten the tip of my small finger. I have a long way to go. When I really become an expert I will have a hearty dip in the ocean of music."
Ustad Bismillah Khan will be remembered even after a century as we remember Sant Kabir.
Here is a man who through his sheer talent turned a folk instrument like the shehnai into a classical instrument.
Till then artistes were playing short and easy pieces on the shehnai but the Ustad introduced raagdari on the instrument. Never before him was the shehnai considered a classical instrument.
The Ustad reluctantly played Dil ka khilona on his shehnai but he cleverly improvised the tune and turned it into a pure classical piece.
The Ustad was humble and simple in his habits and his nobility was reflected in his music. His music could be understood even by a person who doesn't have an ear for classical music.
His tonal quality, prolonged meandering and his lungpower added to the beauty of his music. His music was a combination of sweetness, emotion and passion.
I will miss him on every August 15 because since 1947 Ustad Bismillah Khan performed the Mangal Dhwani every Independence Day on All India Radio! Only this year he was so sick that he could not perform.
Only after Ustad Bismillah Khan's shehnai on AIR on August 15, would the prime minister of India deliver his speech from the Red Fort. I never missed his shehnai in the early morning of Independence Day.
Pandit Ravi Shankar's sitar was more famous in the Western world but Ustad Bismillah Khan was one step ahead of him because he had reached the West and Eastern countries, both. There is an auditorium in his name in Iran.
His towering personality has brought about solidarity between Hindus and Muslims in Benares. Ustad Bismillah Khan was a regular feature of the festivities in the most revered Sankat Mochan temple in Benares. His music unknowingly and gently reminded people to rise above divisive issues. After Sant Kabir very few artistes have created such fusion with the help of creative energy.
As told to Sheela Bhatt