KASARGOD:Around noon, Ustad Hassan Bhai returns dejected from the post office. The double-reed mouthpieces have still not arrived from Varanasi. “I am running out of reeds. Mouthpieces from other places do not produce impeccable notes,” said Hassan Bhai, one of the disciples of the legendary shehnai maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan.
At 72, he keeps the legacy of the maestro who often played at temples, intact. It was only a day ago that he performed at a Vishnu temple in Kannur district. “It was a two-and-half-hour shehnai concert and went late into the night,” he said. The music that comes out of Usthad’s shehnai, gifted by the maestro himself, is sonorous, but has hardly helped him alleviate life’s sufferings. Dependent on his meagre earnings, mostly from teaching music, are his bed-ridden wife, a son and daughter and three grand children borne of another daughter, who is no more.
The family of seven live in a rented apartment, but this status is now poised for a change. The government has agreed to provide five cents of land in Thekkil village, and Chemnad panchayat will construct a house for him. Ustad, who won this year’s Gurupuja Award, says he always played music for the love of it and never tried to make money out of it.
Poverty is a recent phenomenon in Usthad’s life. Born to a Muslim Keyi couple -- Adam and Bibi -- in Thalassery on August 15, 1943, Hassan Kutty had a comfortable life.
He inherited music from his mother, Adam Bibi, a trained vocalist. “Under my mother, I used have long hours of riyaaz,” says Usthad, who plays 30 wind and string instruments.
On turning 18, his mother sent him to Mysore to learn Hindustani music. After a couple of years, like most of Keyi youngsters, Hassan Bhai landed a job with a merchant ship and set to sail around the world. Once when the ship docked at Los Angeles, he found his way to a Catholic church and played piano for a Sunday mass.
“The members liked me so much that I was part of the church choir for the next three years,” says Hassan Bhai. He returned only when he got a notice from the embassy for overstaying. Back in India, he started frequenting Mumbai, then Bombay, to play tabala in an orchestra. “Bombay made Hassan Kutty, Hassan Bhai,” he says. In one such programme in 1975, he met Bismillah Khan and conveyed the desire to learn shehnai under him. “He immediately agreed and asked me to come to Banaras,” recalls Hassan Bhai.
And so started 10 long years of riyaaz on the banks of Ganga under the maestro. Hassan Bhai says he enjoyed playing raag Bhairavi on the banks of the Ganga, sitting across Kashi Vishwanath temple. “Though Kasargod has so many rivers, I never experienced the same feeling,” he says.