Ustad Bismillah Khan’s ‘Shehnai’ Stolen

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Varanasi: In a rather shocking incident, Ustad Bismillah Khan’s most treasured ‘shehnai’ has been stolen from his house on Monday.

The maestro’s youngest son Nazim Hussain, who accompanied the Ustad on the ‘tabla’ at almost all concerts, says it could be the handiwork of someone within the family. A rather messy dispute is going on between the Ustad’s four sons over who could make the most of the Indian classical music legend’s invaluable legacy.

Though family members are yet to report the matter to the police, Nazim has demanded a CBI inquiry into how the “priceless” instrument had gone missing from the Ustad’s room in the Hadaha Sarai locality of Varanasi. “It could well have found its way into the international market where any antique dealer or connoisseur of music would pay a huge price,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

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Bismillah Khan was awarded the Padma Shri (1961), Padma Bhushan (1968), Padma Vibhushan (1980) and the Bharat Ratna in 2001. He died on August 21, 2006.

“The Ustad had 10 shehnais. But this was the one he treasured most,” says Kausar Ali Qureshi, a Varanasi-based journalist who knew the Ustad well. “The others he used for ‘riyaaz’ (practice) which he did for up to 14 hours every day. But he used to perform at all prestigious concerts with the one which is missing now,” he adds. It’s, in fact, well known that the maestro would keep this ‘shehnai’ made of wood near his pillow when he slept.

“The ‘shehnai’ was given to my elder brother Nayyar after Khan saheb died. After he (Nayyar) died in 2009, it was kept on the charpoy in Khan saheb’s third floor room which always remained locked,” Nazim told DNA on phone.

“We were apprehensive that it could be stolen or sold off to some foreign tourist, many of who keep coming to visit our house,” he said. “But, whenever I tried to get the room opened, my elder brothers Kazim and Mehtab opposed it vehemently. I think it was stolen or sold off in 2009 itself,” he said, adding: “They have forcibly thrown me out of the house which they want to dismantle and get a commercial building constructed,” he added.

However, Mehtab dismisses the charges, saying Nazim has always been a nuisance for the family. “If he says the ‘shehnai’ has been missing since 2009, why is he raising a furore now?” he asked when reporters quizzed him on the matter.

Sources who know the Ustad’s family well say the brothers are constantly fighting, trying to grab whatever gains the maestro’s legacy would get them. The eldest one Mehtab lives in the Ustad’s house with a brother Kazim while Nazim and Zamin live elsewhere.

Nazim has approached the Prime Minister’s camp office in Varanasi with a plea to save the Ustad’s legacy, stop the two elder brothers from getting the house demolished and convert it into a memorial dedicated to the ‘shehnai’ maestro. The way things are messed up in the highly decorated musician’s family, it would probably take a Modi to set things right.