In Bihar, landgrab does not spare a Bharat Ratna’s birthplace

By Imran Khan

Patna : Its the house in Dumraon, some 110 km from here, where shenai mastero Ustad Bismillah Khan was born and lived in for the first six-seven years of his life. Over time, sundry Chief Ministers have promised to preserve the house and develop the town, one of Bihar’s oldest municipalities — but to no avail.

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Now, a musician, a poet and two theatre activists have petitioned the Bihar government against efforts by anti-social elements to usurp the property and the considerably large grounds around it and said that an “anganwadi” day-care centre for children is being forcibly run from the house.

The action came after Subhan Khan, the caretaker of the house, complained to the police that attempts were being made to usurp the property.

Pramod Kumar, a district official in Dumraon, said a probe is underway and legal action would soon be taken against the guilty.

“Bismillah Khan’s ancestral house is a heritage property for the country and its people. It should be protected by the government,” Gajender Narain Singh, a musician and a Padma Shri recipient, told IANS.

Well-known Hindi poet Alok Dhanwa, the president of the Sangeet Natak Academy here, said the government must promptly initiate action against those involved in the attempted landgrab. “It is shameful and unfortunate that some people have reportedly tried to capture Bismillah Khan’s his ancestral house. We will protest against this,” Dhanwa told IANS.

Theatre activists Anish Ankur and Jai Prakash said the attempt to take over the property exposed the fact that it has remained neglected for years despite top leaders of Bihar repeatedly promising to develop it. “It is not acceptable that a house which should be treated as a heritage property is under attack,” Ankur said.

Local residents in Dumraon, a part of the Buxur Lok Sabha constituency, admitted that Bismillah Khan – recipient of the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian honour — was not given due respect in his hometown.

Two Bihar Chief Ministers and a host of other politicians have promised to develop the property but beyond tokenism, there has been nothing concrete on the ground.

Lalu Prasad 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 the 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, Even the marble foundation stone that Lalu Prasad laid has been gathering dust at the Dumraon police station for several years,” Murli Manohar Srivastava, who has written a book on Bismillah Khan, said.

“It was ironic that promises made to develop the maestro’s birthplace remained unfulfilled and were not an issue at the polls,” he rued.

Bismillah Khan was born Qamruddin on March 21, 1913, at the house, located in Dumraon’s Bhirung Raut Ki Gali. According to the locals, his ancestors were court musicians and used to play in the naqqar khana — a drum house or orchestra pit — in the erstwhile princely state of Dumraon. His father was a shehnai player in the court of Maharaja Keshav Prasad Singh.

Bismillah Khan moved to his maternal grandfather’s home in Benaras (now Varanasi) when he was barely six or seven. His uncle, Ali Baksh ‘Vilayatu’, a shehnai player attached to the holy Kashi Vishwanath Temple, was his guru.

Bismillah Khan, who died on August 21, 2006, was a rare recipient of all four of the country’s top civilian honours — the Padma Shri (1961), the Padma Bhushan (1968), the Padma Vibhushan (1990) and the Bharat Ratna (2001).