Bismillah Khan, the shehnai maestro whom Bihar forgot


Dumraon (Bihar): Bharat Ratna shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan’s birth place in this Bihar town is crumbling despite politicians making promises over the years. In this election, it is barely a talking point for candidates.

Politicians have repeatedly made promises to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace. But, over nine years after his death, local residents are disappointed with state and the central government’s failure to take concrete steps.

Murli Manohar Srivastava, who has written a book on Bismillah Khan, said it was an irony that promises made to develop the maestro’s birth place remained unfulfilled and were not an issue in the polls.

Bihar is in the midst of staggered five-phased elections. The votes will be counted on November 8.

Bismillah Khan was born Qamruddin at Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Dumraon, about 15 km from Buxar town. According to locals, Bismillah Khan’s ancestors were court musicians and used to play in Naqqar khana in the princely state of Dumraon. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh of Dumraon.

When he was barely six or seven, Bismillah moved to his maternal grandfather’s home in Varanasi. His uncle, Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a shehnai player attached to Varanasi’s Kashi Vishwanath Temple, was his guru.

Two Bihar chief ministers and a host of politicians have promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace in the Dumraon assembly constituency in Buxur district, about 130 km from Patna, but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground.

Polls campaigning is hotting up in Dumraon, but development of Bismillah Khan’s birthplace is not an election issue for politicians.

“Neither the grand alliance of JD-U, RJD and Congress nor the BJP-led NDA are keen to talk about it…,” said Shailendra Kumar, a local resident.

Lalu Prasad, when he was chief minister, had in 1994 laid the foundation stone of a town hall-cum-library in Bismillah Khan’s memory. In 2006 Chief Minister Nitish Kumar announced construction of a museum and installation of a life-size statue after the shehnai masetro’s death in August of that year.

“But nothing has happened so far. It is a pity for all of us,” rued another local resident Sultan Alam.

Even the marble foundation stone that Lalu Prasad laid has been gathering dust at the Dumraon police station for several years.

“As construction was not started due to one reason or the other, the marble plaque was brought here as it could have been stolen or damaged by anti-social elements,” a district police officer said.

BJP legislator and former culture minister Sukhda Pandey, who was denied ticket to contest assembly polls this time, has also left the local residents disappointed.

Alam said: “She had promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace but forgot about it.”

Lal Muni Choubey of the BJP, who represented Buxar four times before being defeated in 2009 by Jagdanand Singh of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), reluctantly admitted he had done nothing to develop the memorial.

“I have told you earlier and again (I reiterate) that I am sad that Bismillah Khan was not given respect in his home town,” said Choubey, who was denied a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2014.

Present BJP MP from Buxar Ashwani Kumar Choubey said that Bismillah Khan’s birth place will be developed as a tourist place if the BJP-led NDA comes to power in Bihar after state assembly polls.

Brahmin-dominated Buxar is witnessing a four-cornered contest among incumbent Jagdanand Singh, the BJP’s Ashwani Kumar Choubey, the Janata Dal-United’s Shyam Lal Kushwaha and the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Dadan Yadav.

Some Muslims living near the ancestral house of Bisimillah, where he was born, expressed their unhappiness over its neglect and the double standards of politicians.

“We cannot do anything except express anger and frustration time and again. If Bismillah Khan was born in any other place outside Bihar, it would have developed the house but here, there’s no one to care for it,” said Salim Ansari, who stays near Bismillah Khan’s birthplace.

Another resident, Rahul Mishra, said there is a road named after Bismillah Khan in Varanasi, where he died, but there is nothing in his name at his birthplace. “It is unbelievable but true. Politicians have no interest in developing anything in his memory,” he said.

Daud Ali, who represented Dumraon in the Bihar assembly but was denied the ticket to contest polls from Dumraon by the ruling JU-U, said he had tried his level best to develop it but didn’t succeed.

“We are demanding that land be allotted to build a memorial for Bismillah Khan but it is yet to happen due to the delay on the part of the officials concerned,” he said.

Dadan Yadav, who is contesting as a JD-U candidate from Dumaraon, said he will change the face of Bismillah’s birthplace.

“It is not my promise, it is my resolve. Whether I win or lose the polls,” said Yadav, a former minister.