The Shennai of Bismillah Khan
By- Deborah Cowley I
SHORT ANSWER QUESTIONS
(to be answered in about 30 – 40 words each)
Q1. Why did Aurangzeb ban the playing of the pungi? (Textual)
Ans. Emperor Aurangzeb banned the playing of the pungi because he considered it as a reeded noisemaker with its loud, shrill, and unpleasant sound. He prohibited its play in the royal court.
Q2. Why did the pungi become a generic name for “reeded noisemakers”?
Ans. The pungi produced loud, unpleasant and jarring music. Because of this shrill music, Aurangzeb banned it in the royal house. As it was made from a reed and produced noisy sounds, it became a generic name for “reeded noisemakers”.
Q3. How is a ‘shehnai’ different from a pungi? (Textual)
Ans.Though a reeded instrument like a pungi, a shehnai differs from it in width and sound. It is made with a longer and broader stem than a pungi and produces soft, melodious sounds instead of the loud, jarring sound of a pungi.
Q4. Who revived the pungi and what shape did it take?
Ans. When Aurangzeb banned the playing of the pungi in the royal residence, a barber who belonged to a family of professional musicians revived it by taking a wider and longer hollow stem and making seven holes in it. The improved pungi produced soft and sweet sounds.
Q5. How did the ‘shehnai’ get its name?
Ans. It is believed that the barber (nai) who improved the pungi, played his instrument in the chamber of the emperor (shah). The c combination of the two words ‘shah’ and ‘nai’ formed the name ‘shehnai’.
Q6. Why was the shehnai played in temples and weddings?
Ans. The music of the shehnai was melodious and soft. It came to be believed that it was auspicious. Therefore, in the holy temples and on the happy auspicious occasions of weddings, the shehnai was played.
Q7. Where was the shehnai played traditionally? How did Bismillah Khan change it? (Textual)
How did Bismillah Khan bring the ‘shehnai’ onto the classical stage?
Ans. Traditionally, the shehnai was played in the royal court as one of the nine instruments together known as naubat. Bismillah Khan made it an independent instrument and gave its music a place among other classical instrumental music.
Q8. Where did Bismillah Khan usually sing at the age of five? How was he rewarded and by whom?
Ans. At the age of five, Bismillah Khan usually sang the Bhojpuri ‘chaita a’ in the Bihariji temple in his native town Dumraon in Bihar. At the end of the song, he earned a big laddu weighing 1.25 kg which was given by the local Maharaja as a prize.
Q9. What does the feature “The Shehnai of Bismillah Khan”, tell us about the paternal ancestors of Bismillah Khan?
What kind of family did Bismillah Khan hail from?
Ans. Bismillah Khan hailed from a family of musicians in Bihar. His grandfather Rasool Bux Khan was the shehnai player in the royal court of the king of Bhojpur. His father Paigambar Bux and many paternal and maternal uncles were also ‘shehnai vaadaks’ (players).
Q10. Who was Ali Bux? Where was he employed and what was his influence on Bismillah Khan?
Ans. Ali Bux was the maternal uncle of Bismillah Khan and may be regarded as his mentor and trainer. He was a great shehnai player and was employed to play the shehnai in the Vishnu temple of Benaras. At a very young age, Bismillah Khan started accompanying him and got lessons in playing the shehnai from him. The young boy would sit for hours listening to his uncle and later practise throughout the day.
Q11. Which places were young Bismillah Khan’s favourite haunts for practising music? Why?
Ans. The temple of Balaji and Mangala Maiya, as well as the banks of the Ganga, were young Bismillah Khan’s favourite haunts because he could practice his music there in solitude. The flowing waters of Ganga inspired him to improvise and invent raagas which were earlier considered beyond the range of the shehnai.
Q12. When and how did Bismillah Khan get his big break? (Textual)
Ans. The ‘big break’ came to Bismillah Khan when in 1938 the All India Radio was started in Lucknow. Khansaab was regularly invited to play the shehnai and soon became an often-heard shehnai player on the radio.
Q13. Where did Bismillah Khan play the shehnai on August 15, 1947? Why was the event historic?
Ans. Bismillah Khan played the shehnai on August 15, 1947, at the Red Fort in New Delhi prior to the speech of Pandit Nehru. It was a historic event as India had got independence from the British on this day. Bismillah Khan was the first Indian to greet the nation and he poured his heart out while playing the melodious Raag Kafi on his shehnai.
Q14. Where did Bismillah Khan go on his first foreign trip? How was he honoured there?
Ans. Bismillah Khan’s first foreign trip took him to Afghanistan where King Zahir Shah was so impressed with the maestro’s shehnai recital that he honoured him with gifts of priceless Persian carpets and other souvenirs.
Q15. Why did the film director Vijay Bhatt name his film “Gunj Uthi Shehnai“?
Ans. The film director, Vijay Bhatt, once heard the shehnai recital of Bismillah Khan in a festival. He was so fascinated by the performance that he decided to name his next film after the instrument and called it “Gun Uthi Shehnai“
Q16. Which films did Bismillah Khan provide music for? Why did he discontinue playing the shehnai for films?
Ans. Bismillah Khan ventured into the film world with Vijay Bhatt’s “Gunj Uthi Shehnai” . Then he played in a Kannada film – “Samadhi Apanna“. Though he was very successful, he gave up the film world because his tastes did not tune well with the artificiality and glamour of filmdom.
Q17. How was Bismillah Khan’s music appreciated and recognised on the international level?
Ans. Bismillah Khan’s music was so much appreciated on the international level that he became the first Indian to be invited to perform in the prestigious Lincoln Central Hall, USA. He participated in the World Exposition in Montreal, the Cannes Art Festival and the Osaka Trade Fair. In Teheran, an auditorium was named after him.
Q18. How did India honour and reward the great musician, Bismillah Khan?
Ans. India honoured Bismillah Khan by conferring on him the greatest national awards – the Padmashri, the Padma Bhushan and the Padma Vibhushan. He was also awarded the Bharat Rama in 2001, the highest civilian award in India.
Q19. Why did Bismillah Khan want that the children in India should be taught music?
Ans. Bismillah Khan had great regard for Indian music and considered the Hindustani music to be its richest heritage. He wanted that children must not cut off their bond from this grand tradition which was fascinating even for the people of the west.
Q20. What offer did one of Bismillah Khan’s students in the US make to him? Why?
Ans. A student of Bismillah Khan, who himself was settled in the US, wanted that the great maestro should be the head of a shehnai school in the U.S. He promised that he would create the environment of India by erecting the temples like those in Benaras, India.
Q21. Why did Bismillah Khan refuse to start a shehnai school in the U.S.A.? (Textual)
Ans. Bismillah Khan was a staunch patriot and was passionately in love with Benaras and Dumraon in India. He intensely loved the Ganga and could not stay away from the sacred river. Therefore, he declined the offer to settle down in the US and head a shehnai school there.
Q22. Why does the author believe that Bismillah Khan’s life is “a perfect example of the rich, cultural heritage of India”?
Ans. India has always shown a liberal attitude to all communities and religions. Its cultural heritage is a blend of various castes and creeds. Bismillah Khan’s life perfectly represents this blend. Although a devout Muslim, Khansaab played the shehnai in the Kashi Vishwanath temple every morning.
Q23. Find instances in the text which tell you that Bismillah Khan loved India and Benaras.
Ans. Bismillah Khan’s love for India and Benaras is revealed by the fact that he refused to settle down in the US as the head of a shehnai school in spite of a strong assurance from his student to build temples like those in India. This love also becomes obvious in his acceptance speech after receiving the Bharat Ratna when he declared Hindustani music to be the richest heritage.
Q.24. How did Evelyn sense the sounds and vibrations of the music?
Ans. Evelyn sensed the sounds and vibrations of the music by opening her mind and body to them. She felt different notes through different parts of her body.
Q25. What was the contribution of Forbes in helping Evelyn to learn music?
Ans. Forbes played a crucial role in shaping Evelyn’s musical talents. He asked her to sense the sounds and vibrations through her different body parts. He turned two large drums to different notes and asked her to feel the different notes and sounds some other way.
Q26. How was Evelyn a source of great pleasure to her audience?
Ans. Evelyn was very young. She performed despite her handicap. Her music was better than those of her double age. She was an inspiration to the handicapped. Thus, she has given enormous pleasure to millions.
Q27. How is Evelyn able to express music so beautifully?
Ans. Though deaf, Evelyn was able to express music beautifully as she could feel far more deeply than many of us. That is why she expressed music so beautifully.
Q28. How was Evelyn able to get admission to the Royal Academy of Music?
Ans. Ron Forbes spotted Evelyn’s potential in music. She never looked back from that point. By the time she was sixteen, she had decided to make music her life. She auditioned for the Royal Academy of Music and scored the highest marks in the history of the academy.
Q29. Why does Evelyn remove her shoes on the wooden platform?
Ans. While playing instruments she removes shoes on the wooden platform. It allows the vibrations to pass through her bare feet and up to her legs. She is able to feel music through every part of her body. She can also feel the echo of sound flowing into her body by leaning against the drums.
Q30. How did Ron Forbes give training in music to Evelyn?
Ans. He took two large drums for tuning Evelyn at once realised higher drums from the waist up and lower drums from the waist down. He motivated her to feel music in different parts of her body.
Q31. When and how did Bismillah Khan get his big break?
Ans. With the opening of All India Radio in Lucknow in 1938, Bismillah Khan got a big break. He became an often heard Shehnai player on Radio. When India got independence on 15th August 1947, Bismillah Khan became the first Indian to greet the nation with his Shehnai.
Q32. Where did Bismillah Khan play the Shehnai on 15 August 1947? Why was the event historic?
Ans. Bismillah Khan played the Shehnai from the Red Fort on 15th August 1947. It was a historic event because he became the first Indian to greet the nation on the occasion of first Independence Day. This programme was attended by Nehru, the first Prime Minister and many stalwarts of the nations.
Q33. What were the recurring themes of Bismillah Khan’s music?
Ans. Bismillah Khan was a true Indian at heart. The recurring themes of his music were the ethics of temples and human relationships. The flowing waters of the Ganga inspired him to improve and invent `raagas’.
Q34. How was pungi came to be named Whehnai’?
Ans. A barber from a family of professional musicians decided to improve the pungi. He chose a pipe with a hollow stem that was longer and broader than the pungi. He played the instrument before the king and everyone was impressed. Since it was played by a barber, and in the Shah’s chambers, the instrument was named as ‘She/tile.
Q35. Bismillah Khan loved India and Benaras the most. Justify it by giving two instances from the text.
Ans. He was fond of Benaras and Dumraon. They remained for him the most wonderful towns in the world. He said that whenever he was in a foreign country, he kept yearning to see India. While in Mumbai, he thinks only of Benaras and the holy Ganga. And while in Benaras, he misses the unique mattha of Dumraon.
Q36. How did the barber change the tonal quality of a pungi into the melodious voice of the Shehnai?
Ans. The barber chose a pipe with a natural hollow-stem. It was longer and broader than `pungi’. He made seven holes on the body of the pipe. He played on it. Soft and melodious sounds were produced. The barber played it before the royalty and it came to be known as Shehnai.
Q37. How did Ustad Bismillah Khan bring Shehnai to the classical stage?
Ans. Bismillah Khan was a great Shehnai player. He invented many raagas and played them on Shehnai. His tunes enchanted everybody. Thus, Shehnai became a popular musical instrument in the country.
Q38. What idea did Ustad Bismillah Khan hold about Hindustani music?
Ans. He held a high about Hindustani music. He was of the opinion that every child should learn Hindustani music. India has a very rich tradition of music. Even the West come here to learn our music.