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Belated birthday gifts for Bismillah Khan

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Mar 22 (UNI) Shehnai virtuoso Bismillah Khan turned 91 yesterday without the world knowing it. His fans are now readying to give him belated birthday gifts.

The celebration will be held on Saturday at the Ustad's home in Varanasi where a 91 kg cake would be cut. Union Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal has promised to give him Rs 10,000 every month for the rest of his life.

Mr Sibal will also present a three kg 'silver shehnai' to the maestro, who was honoured by the government with the 'Bharat Ratna' in 2001 with much fanfare and then forgotten.

Lying unwell and unattended in his Varanasi home, it took a huge public outcry for the government to announce help for him two years ago.

''Charity begins at home,'' said Mr Sibal. ''Bismillah Khan has tuned India perfectly for the past eight decades and now it is our time to serve the maestro,'' he added.

The 'silver shehnai' to be presented by Mr Sibal measures 20 inches long and made by Daryaganj jewellers.

Neena Jha and Shivnath Jha, a Delhi-based couple who came out with a monograph on the Ustad two years ago, will be presenting him a cheque for Rs 1,50,000.

Ustad Bismillah Khan had refused to celebrate his 91st birthday to express his sorrow over the deaths in the March 7 Varanasi blasts.

Another reason was that his birthday coincided with the 40th day of Muharam, the Muslim month of mourning.

The Ustad has the unique distinction of receiving all top civilian awards---the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri.

In January, the ailing nonagenarian shehnai wizard had urged Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release all outstanding financial dues pending since 1961, so that he could take care of his needs in his old age.

UNI FZ/SKS PV BST1619

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