Thursday, August 24, 2006 Varanasi (UNI): Shehnai exponent, Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan was once the king of wrestling and soccer. In his youth, Khan Sahib, who died today due to a heart attack, made the defence of the Banaras Sporting Club (BSC) 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 this holy city, which ultimately became his first love.
''We learnt from our parents about the resolute defending of Ustad Bismillah Khan as a youngman in soccer, while sporting the colours of BSC considered the 'red devils' of city soccer,'' recounted Shahid Ali, the Secretary of the Club founded in 1936 by a British official. Although age forced Khan Sahib to skip the soccer field, he continued to galvanise the younger red devils from the sidelines. ''He has been the Club chief patron for the last 10 yrs, but we will miss the soccer luminary forever, for different reasons than his music fans,'' Mr 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,'' Mr Ali added. 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 conquerer, who had by then transformed into a master exponent of Shehnai, Mr Ali added.
Confirming Mr Ali's memoirs, Khan Sahib's secretary S Javed told UNI very few, barring the Banaras Sporting Club 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,'' Mr 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 Sahib, said the proposed mini-stadium in Benia Bag could be named after the music icon.
Also unknown about him is that he once refused a permanent residence in New York, only out of the boundless love for the sacred Ganga river, that edges his Karmabhoomi Kashi. Interacting with UNI here today, Khan Sahib's third son Zamin Hussain, also a shehnai player, recounted that a senior representative of the US government, who was present at the musical icon's concert in New York in 1980s, made the offer. ''The US government representative made Abba (Khan Sahib) the offer of making New York, his permanent residence,'' said Zamin, who accompanied his illustrious father at that concert. In response to the offer, Khan Sahib said he wanted to bring all his blood relatives, numbering over 200 to the US. ''Will you accomodate them permanently in the US, Khan Sahib questioned, Zamin added.
The US official immediately gave his affirmative nod to Khan Sahib's desire, only to be followed by an impossible proposition. ''Will USA serve Bhagirath to me by bringing the sacred Ganga to New York, Khan Sahib had asked the American official,'' claimed Zamin, adding, after that the US official became speechless and left the place. ''The love for Kashi and the sacred Ganga river, was the only thing that prevented Khan Sahib from leaving the city, even for his treatment,'' said Zamin. It was the Balaji temple situated on the banks of Ganga river in Varanasi, which served as the place for 'riyaz' to Khan Sahib. He was also blessed by the celestial shadow of Lord Balaji at the ghat, where he played Ram and Krishna bhajans, Zamin added.
Sixty-five-year old Naiyar Hussain- the second son of Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan - will take on the mantle of his illustrious father. Naiyar will render a solo shehnai performance at the Benia Bag here in the third week of September. The venue of the proposed performance -- free entry to public -- is the place where the shehnai legend showcased his soccer prowess as a defender of Banaras Sporting Club during his young days. The mortal remains of Khan Sahib were also placed for 'Janata Darshan' at the same ground on Monday.
Interacting with newspersons here today, Mehtab Hussain, the eldest of the five sons of Khan Sahib declared his younger sibling, Naiyar, as the musical successor to the shehnai legend. ''From now on Naiyar will lead the two other musician brothers Zamin (shehnai player) Nazim (tabla player). He will be officially launched as Khan Sahib's musical successor at Benia Bag, when the religious mourning for the music legend will be over,'' Mehtab added. ''My father handed the baton of his musical legacy - Virasat - to Naiyar, two hrs before his death, by teaching him the last musical lesson of sticking to Sur till the last gasp,'' Mr Mehtab maintained. It was Naiyar, who had played the shehnai at the last concert of Khan Sahib at Jaipur on June 11.
''I can never take the place of Abba (khan sahib), but will do my best to carry forward his musical legacy with my younger brothers Zamin and Nazim,'' Naiyar, who had accompanied his father at many concerts across the globe said. Besides, Naiyar Hussain has also performed as Soloist at concerts in Mumbai, Indore, Bhopal, Ahmedabad, Dharwar and others parts of the country, besides South America. ''We wanted to make the announcement of Naiyar ascending to the musical throne of Khan Sahib after the 40-day religious mourning of the shehnai maestro, but owing to speculations in a section of media, about the Bharat Ratna's nephew Mumtaz, proclaiming self as the musical successor, we preponed the crucial announcement'' said Mr Mehtab.