Bismillah’s crumbling birthplace: Testimony to broken promises in Bihar

By Imran Khan,

Dumraon (Bihar) : Jawaharlal Nehru had invited him to play at Delhi’s Red Fort on India’s Independence Day on Aug 15, 1947. The Indian government conferred on him its highest civilain award – the Bharat Ratna. But, eight years after shehnai maestro Bismillah Khan’s death, his crumbling birthplace here is an abject lesson in how politicians break their promises once elections are over.

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Two Bihar chief ministers and a host of other politicians have promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace in this sleepy town in the Buxur Lok Sabha constituency, some 130 km from Patna, but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground.

Bharat Ratna Ustad Bismillah Khan Marg

“It is really unfortunate that the neglect of Bismillah Khan’s birthplace is not an election issue for politicians as they cannot exploit him for votes,” Ashish Kumar Singh, a resident, told IANS.

Lalu Prasad, when 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,” lamented Shamim Ahmad, a local resident, while speaking to IANS.

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 police officer told IANS, speaking on condition of anonymity.

BJP legislator and former culture minister Sukhda Pandey has also disappointed the local residents. “She had promised to develop Bismillah Khan’s birthplace but forgot about it,” Ahmad said.

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 am sad that Bismillah Khan was not given respect in his home town,” Choubey, who was denied a BJP ticket to contest the Lok Sabha polls this time around, told IANS.

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,” Salim Ansari, who stays near Bismillah Khan’s birthplace, told IANS.

Another resident, Sanjit Singh, 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,” Sanjit Singh told IANS.

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

While leaders of the opposition RJD and BJP were silent on the issue, Daud Ali of the ruling JU-U who represents Dumraon in the Bihar assembly did attempt a face saver.

“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 ,” Daud Ali told IANS.

Bismillah Khan was born Qamruddin at Bhirung Raut Ki Gali in Dumraon, about 15 km from Buxar town. According to the local people, 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.

(Imran Khan can be contacted at [email protected])