News that a grandson of Bismillah Khan sold four of the Ustad‘s shehnais to two goldsmiths in Benares for Rs 17,000 will surprise nobody.
For decades, the maestro’s large family lived off his genius and, now that the Ustad isn’t around, the rodents are attacking what little he left behind.
But more surprising – or, maybe, not at all surprising – is the lackadaisical attitude of the Varanasi MP, Narendra Damodardas Modi, to preserving, protecting and promoting the legacy of an amazing jewel of his constituency.
Having made more trips to Benares than its honourable MP, I wrote about this a couple of years ago in a diary in Outlook magazine:
“There are many pit-stops to tank up on humility in the race-track of life, but there is no better address than C.K. 46/62, Sarai Haraha. The place conforms to every known stereotype of a poor Muslim ghetto. The dirty lanes are not wide enough for two 56-inch chested men to cross each other without one of them having to perforce turn around to say ‘adab’. The cackle of screeching kid emanates like piped music from every shack and shanty. Bicycle-mounted knife-sharpeners do roaring business in front of wall-mounted urinals. The odd goat flees its suitors who in a short while will be its slayers. Ice-candy sellers invite the glare of youngsters vrooming on bikes to impress their beaus.
It boggles the mind, no, make that it blows the mind to think that Ustad Bismillah Khan perfected his inspiring music in this cacophony of sights, smells and noises. In another country, in another city, the home of an emblem of our syncretism would be a shrine, preserved and protected to remind two-bit stars what true genius is. That it doesn’t depend on who you were born to, where you grew up or who you sucked up to. But Modi is too busy calling a skills-development programme for the minorities ‘Ustad’ while the real one is in the backyard crying out for attention. “He goes around the world trying to build bridges,” says a tourist guide. “Here’s one ready and waiting. He just needs to tell his driver, ‘gaadi mod lo’.”
Actually, it is not that difficult to make the course correction. I counted 14 pictures of Bismillah Khan with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray on the wall of the Ustad’s ‘living room’.”
The accompanying video shows how empty all our slogans of preserving our “culture” and “heritage” are on the ground – and how the Ustad’s craft was in spite of the narrow-mindedness of politicians of every hue.
As India turns 70, London School of Economics asks some provocative questions
Is India ready to become a global superpower?
Meaningful changes have always been driven by the right, but inconvenient questions. As India completes 70 years of its sovereign journey, we could do two things – celebrate, pay our token tributes and move on, or take the time to reflect and assess if our course needs correction. The ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, the annual flagship summit of the LSE (London School of Economics) South Asia Centre, is posing some fundamental but complex questions that define our future direction as a nation. Through an honest debate – built on new research, applied knowledge and ground realities – with an eclectic mix of thought leaders and industry stalwarts, this summit hopes to create a thought-provoking discourse.
From how relevant (or irrelevant) is our constitutional framework, to how we can beat the global one-upmanship games, from how sincere are business houses in their social responsibility endeavours to why water is so crucial to our very existence as a strong nation, these are some crucial questions that the event will throw up and face head-on, even as it commemorates the 70th anniversary of India’s independence.
Is it time to re-look at constitution and citizenship in India?
The Constitution of India is fundamental to the country’s identity as a democratic power. But notwithstanding its historical authority, is it perhaps time to examine its relevance? The Constitution was drafted at a time when independent India was still a young entity. So granting overwhelming powers to the government may have helped during the early years. But in the current times, they may prove to be more discriminatory than egalitarian. Our constitution borrowed laws from other countries and continues to retain them, while the origin countries have updated them since then. So, do we need a complete overhaul of the constitution? An expert panel led by Dr Mukulika Banerjee of LSE, including political and economic commentator S Gurumurthy, Madhav Khosla of Columbia University, Niraja Gopal Jayal of JNU, Chintan Chandrachud the author of the book Balanced Constitutionalism and sociologist, legal researcher and Director of Council for Social Development Kalpana Kannabiran will seek answers to this.
Is CSR simply forced philanthropy?
While India pioneered the mandatory minimum CSR spend, has it succeeded in driving impact? Corporate social responsibility has many dynamics at play. Are CSR initiatives mere tokenism for compliance? Despite government guidelines and directives, are CSR activities well-thought out initiatives, which are monitored and measured for impact? The CSR stipulations have also spawned the proliferation of ambiguous NGOs. The session, ‘Does forced philanthropy work – CSR in India?” will raise these questions of intent, ethics and integrity. It will be moderated by Professor Harry Barkema and have industry veterans such as Mukund Rajan (Chairman, Tata Council for Community Initiatives), Onkar S Kanwar (Chairman and CEO, Apollo Tyres), Anu Aga (former Chairman, Thermax) and Rahul Bajaj (Chairman, Bajaj Group) on the panel.
Can India punch above its weight to be considered on par with other super-powers?
At 70, can India mobilize its strengths and galvanize into the role of a serious power player on the global stage? The question is related to the whole new perception of India as a dominant power in South Asia rather than as a Third World country, enabled by our foreign policies, defense strategies and a buoyant economy. The country’s status abroad is key in its emergence as a heavyweight but the foreign service officers’ cadre no longer draws top talent. Is India equipped right for its aspirations? The ‘India Abroad: From Third World to Regional Power’ panel will explore India’s foreign policy with Ashley Tellis, Meera Shankar (Former Foreign Secretary), Kanwal Sibal (Former Foreign Secretary), Jayant Prasad and Rakesh Sood.
Are we under-estimating how critical water is in India’s race ahead?
At no other time has water as a natural resource assumed such a big significance. Studies estimate that by 2025 the country will become ‘water–stressed’. While water has been the bone of contention between states and controlling access to water, a source for political power, has water security received the due attention in economic policies and development plans? Relevant to the central issue of water security is also the issue of ‘virtual water’. Virtual water corresponds to the water content (used) in goods and services, bulk of which is in food grains. Through food grain exports, India is a large virtual net exporter of water. In 2014-15, just through export of rice, India exported 10 trillion litres of virtual water. With India’s water security looking grim, are we making the right economic choices? Acclaimed author and academic from the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi, Amita Bavisar will moderate the session ‘Does India need virtual water?’
Delve into this rich confluence of ideas and more at the ‘India @ 70: LSE India Summit’, presented by Apollo Tyres in association with the British Council and organized by Teamworks Arts during March 29-31, 2017 at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. To catch ‘India @ 70’ live online, register here.
At the venue, you could also visit the Partition Museum. Dedicated to the memory of one of the most conflict-ridden chapters in our country’s history, the museum will exhibit a unique archive of rare photographs, letters, press reports and audio recordings from The Partition Museum, Amritsar.
This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Teamwork Arts and not by the Scroll editorial team.