‘मेरे मालिक सुर बख्श दे। सुर में वह तासीर पैदा कर कि आँखों से सच्चे मोती की तरह अनगढ़ आँसू निकल आएँ।‘
‘My Lord, grant me the (perfect) tone. A tone that can create an effect of such beauty that sublime tear-drops, as pristine as pearls, flow from the eyes’

I, like many of you, completed my secondary schooling under the Central Board of Secondary Education. Years later, I remember only the language textbooks – English and Hindi. Maybe it was my love for the stories in them or just because of the interestingly named books in the course; Gulmohar in class 8, Flamingo in class 12 among other such titles. One such book was Kshitij, from the Course A curriculum for Hindi in Class 10. And the line you read above was from one of the ‘lessons’ that I remember till date.

The chapter from Kshitij is titled नौबतखाने में इबादत (Naubatkhaane mein ibadat) written by Yatindra Mishra. A Naubat khaana is either a small section of a (royal) courtyard or a section of a minar that is dedicated to musicians where they perform. Ibaadat means prayer. The chapter talked about the life and times of Ustad Bismillah Khan, a Shehnai maestro and a Bharat Ratna recipient. Hailing from a family of musicians, he took to Shehnai as a child and used to perform with his uncles/cousins from an early age. The ‘chapter’ goes on to detail Ustad’s life around the Ganga and his thoughts about Kashi.

What I did realize back when I read this and I continue to do now, whenever I revisit it, is the absolute simplicity of Ustad Bismillah. It strikes true that something absolutely simple is often very profound. When asked if he would eventually move out of his modest Kashi home, he had answered that he could live without seeing the Ganga and the temple of Kashi Vishwanath. But surviving without the Kachori and Jelebi from down the street connecting these two would have been more difficult.

The doors of the Balaji and Vishwanath temples opened to the sound of Shehnai, often played my Ustad Khan or one of his family members. Looks like the Lord was used to waking up to ‘Mangaladhwani’ or divine sound. And maybe the same master listened when Ustad said ‘फटा सुर न बख्शें’, or maybe it was the hours of practice everyday that gave Ustad the infallible ‘sur’. I am sure that it was the latter.

I wonder why I remember this one bit so vividly from years ago. Maybe it’s because I had never seen such devotion to music or art. It was probably the first time I was told that giving all of one’s devotion to an art form was legitimate. I don’t remember if that chapter had any mention of India’s highest civilian honour conferred upon him, but only the image of the earnest old man pining for the right note remains.

I read stories from Kshitij and Flamingo once in a while. I continue to idolize the man, and his earnestness to perfect his art.

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