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The Shennai of Bismillah Khan
By- Deborah Cowley I
EXTRACTS FOR COMPREHENSION
Read the following extracts and answer the questions that follow in one or two lines each.
Few had thought that it would one day be revived. A barber of a family of professional musicians, who had access to the royal palace, decided to improve the tonal quality of the pungi.
(a) What does ‘it’ refer to?
It refers to a reeded musical instrument called the pungi.
(b) Why did ‘it’ need to be revived?
The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb had banned the pungi in the royal residence as he found its sound to be shrill and unpleasant. Therefore, it needed to be revived.
(c) Why did the barber probably have interest in ‘it’?
The barber hailed from a family of professional musicians. That is why he probably had an interest in the reeded musical instrument, the pungi.
(d) Did he succeed in improving ‘it’? If yes, how?
Yes, he succeeded in improving the tonal quality of the pungi. He took a reed or a pipe with the natural hollow stem which was wider and longer than the pungi. He made seven holes in it. When played, it produced soft and melodious music instead of the shrill, unpleasant sound of the earlier pungi.
As the story goes, since it was first played in the Shah’s chambers and was played by a nai (barber), the instrument was named the ‘shehnai.
(a) What is ‘it’ here?
It is shehnai – a musical instrument made with a hollow stem with seven holes in it.
(b) How did ‘it’ get its name?
The instrument was played by the barber in the chambers of the emperor. ‘Shah’ is an Urdu word for ’emperor’ and ‘nai’ for a barber. The two words combined to form the name ‘shehnai’ that was the improved version of pungi.
(c) Who was the barber that played the instrument first?
The barber who first played the instrument belonged to the family of musicians. He had made an improved form of pungi.
(d) What is the significance of the instrument being played in the royal court?
The pungi had been banned by the emperor Aurangzeb in the royal residence. Therefore, concerts of the shehnai in the royal court made it a significant instrument.
Till recently it was used only in temples and weddings. The credit for bringing this instrument onto the classical stage goes to Ustad Bismillah Khan.
(a) Which instrument is being referred to in the extract?
The instrument is referred to in the extract is ‘shehnai’.
(b) Why, do you think, it was used only in temples and weddings?
The sounds of shehnai were so melodious that they were considered to be auspicious. As the temple is a holy place and wedding, is an auspicious occasion, shehnai came to be played there.
(c) Who was Ustad Bismillah Khan?
Ustad Bismillah Khan was the renowned shehnai player who contributed in a major way to the promotion of shehnai as a significant musical instrument.
(d) How did Bismillah Khan bring the shehnai to the classical stage?
Bismillah Khan did a great service to shehnai as it came to be regarded as an instrument of classical music because of the new melodies produced by him.
The flowing waters of the Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent raagas that were earlier considered to be beyond the range of the shehnai.
(a) Who was inspired by the flowing waters of the Ganga?
Ustad Bismillah Khan was inspired by the flowing waters of the Ganga.
(b) What kind of impact did the waters of the Ganga have on ‘him’?
The waters of the Ganga inspired him to improvise the old raagas and invent new ones for the shehnai.
(c) How did he widen the range of the shehnai?
There were certain raagas or musical notations which were considered to be outside the range of the shehnai. He invented and played new raagas on it and made its range wider.
(d) What could be the relation between the waters of the Ganga and the musical notations?
The waters of the Ganga flow with a rhythm and beat which are similar to musical notations.
He poured his heart out into Raag Kafi from the Red Fort to an audience which included Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who later gave his famous ‘Tryst with Destiny’ speech.
(a) Who is ‘he’ in this line?
He is Ustad Bismillah Khan, the eminent shehnai player.
(b) On which occasion did he play Raag Kafi for the audience?
He played Raag Kafi for the audience on the occasion of the independence of India on August 15, 1947.
(c) Which instrument did he play upon on this occasion?
He played upon the shehnai, the music of which is considered auspicious in India.
(d) Explain the expression: “He poured his heart out.”
The expression implies that the music played on the shehnai came from the depths of the heart of Bismillah Khan who, as a true patriot, was excited at the declaration of the independence of India.
“I just can’t come to terms with the artificiality and glamour of the film world….”
(a) Who is the speaker of these words?
Bismillah Khan, the famous shehnai maestro, is the speaker of these words.
(b) Which two characteristics of the film world did he dislike?
He disliked the artificiality and glamour of the film world.
(c) What does it indicate about his character?
It indicates that truthfulness and simplicity were two significant traits of Bismillah Khan’s character.
(d) Explain: ‘come to terms’.
The expression ‘come to terms’ means to reconcile with or to accept somebody or something.
But Khansaab asked him if he would be able to transport River Ganga as well.
(a) Who does ‘Khansaab’ refer to in this extract?
In this extract, ‘Khansaab’ refers to Bismillah Khan, the great shehnai maestro.
(b) Who did Khansaab ask the question?
Khansaab asked the question from his student who was settled in the USA.
( C) When did Khansaab say so?
He said so when his student asked him to head a school of music in the USA and promised that he would create the atmosphere Of Benaras by replicating the temples.
(d) What does the remark reveal about ‘Khansaab’?
It reveals that Khansaab was a true patriot, who passionately loved the Ganga and never wanted to live away from it.