Bismillah & Benares

By T.M.A. Raman
Bengaluru: 25-03-2020 2:24PM
Last Updated: 25-03-2020 2:25PM

  I just finished watching Bismillah Benares, a story documenting the life and times of the Indian Shenai legend Bismillah Khan. Directed and scripted by Juhi Sinha, the hour-long film captured captivatingly vignettes of Benares  as reminisced by Khan Saaheb in a simple, charming and multi-colored fashion - right from the multifarious crowd doing their prayers and pooja's at the banks of the river Ganges to the mouth- watering hot poories, vadas and jilebis and the extravagant shops selling a whole lot of household goods to beautifully carved and colourfully-printed sarees and clothes for ladies visiting Benares and those settled in the ancient city.

Most charming was the way Khan Saheb narrated his experiences in the holy city full of myriad temples and monasteries. What was mesmerizing for me was the childish glee with which Khan Saheb narrated incidents from his childhood times.

His waiting patiently sitting on the lap of his uncle while the older man was gobbling hot and garmagarm vadas or poories and his slow bit-by-bit initiation into the intricacies of the Hindustani classical music – he narrated in a charming way.

Most enjoyable was when Khan Saheb said he used to await eagerly slurping his lips until his uncle finished eating the jilebis and said ``aaja beta tubhi kuch khaale ( come on son you too eat something)" and how much Khan Saheb relished such occasions.     A most charming anecdote Khan Saheb revealed on the music he began to play as he grew up in the temple town of Benares. It happened near his house. One day as he was playing on the Shenai, suddenly he smelt a strong fragrance, something compelling. He at first thought it must be the incense sticks lit by some devotees in a nearby temple. But even as he tried to focus on the raga he was playing and forget the smell of the incense sticks, he realised that the fragrance was quite different and soon was overwhelming him completely. He stopped playing and looked around and saw the vision of Baba enveloped in a coloured robe and smiling at him. When Khan Saheb bowed to the Sai Baba and offered him his pranams, the Sai Baba said: "Play on, your future is secure". Khan Saheb said that it was an unforgettable experience, and later in life, as he grew up and won recognition and fame, he knew the blessings of the Baba was with him. Among the most telling things the Khan Saheb said was wherever he travelled, be it Bombay, Delhi, Calcutta or down South in Chennai or Bangalore, he always felt like being in Benares. Such was the deep impact the holy city had left on him. Some cities like Benares live to maketh remarkable musicians such as Ustad Bismillah Khan Saheb.