Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was the disciple of Sawai Gandharva ji and belonged to the Kirana Gharana of Hindustani classical music. However, his influences were manifold and that helped him develop his own style of singing. He is, for instance, known for creating his own style of khayal gayiki and was a great exponent of traditional devotional music in the form of bhajans and abhangas. He appealed to more contemporary tastes also, notably through his outstanding rendition of that very popular 1988 tune on national integration, Mile Sur Mera Tumhara.
Musician Shubha Mudgal talks about the importance of Bhimsen Joshi’s contribution to Indian music. Download here
Bhimsen Joshi was simple and down to earth, and he never cared for publicity. He was from a generation that belonged to the era before excessive commercialism and public relations. Panditji and I would often perform at the same music festival or concert; he would be the last performer of the evening, coming just after me.
All in one: Pandit Bhimsen Joshi had extraordinary talent, coupled with determination and commitment. Indiatodayimages.com
One thing all musicians are universally fond of is talking about their “great concerts”, wherein they will recount how brilliantly they had performed on a given evening and how bowled over the audience had been. But Panditji never did that. In that sense he was almost egoless, like a rishi. You rarely encounter such people in any walk of life.
A recent memory of Panditji will remain etched in my mind as it meant a lot to me. As you know, because of failing health he had stopped appearing in public a long time back. Just over a month ago, on 11 December, I was to perform at the Sawai Gandharva festival in Pune, which was started by Panditji in memory of his guru. As I headed onstage, I saw a car parked right in front of the stage—Panditji had come especially to see me, but his health didn’t permit him to step out of the car. I met him and he remained in the car listening to my recital for sometime, before leaving. Once the crowd of 14,000 people knew that he was there they all wanted to see him and it created a bit of a security problem. That was his last public appearance.
Panditji had extraordinary talent, coupled with determination and commitment. He faced numerous hardships right from a young age, leaving home at the age of 11 in search of a guru. He went to many places such as Punjab, Gwalior and Lucknow in search of one, and he finally prevailed. It was as if some force was guiding him.
How did he attain the heights that he did? He was gifted with a forceful voice; his taans possessed a brilliance and he had stamina. He would drive himself from Pune to Hyderabad and then straightaway go to the stage. He could sing in public up to three time on a single day. He would sing the same raga or the same composition on consecutive days, but he would bring something new to it. With characteristic humility he would tell me that he knew only 10-12 ragas and I would reply that that itself was more than enough.
Also Read Concert never ends with Bhimsen Joshi
As the story goes, once he came down with a bad cold, which jeopardized his concert later that day. He told the anxious organizer not to worry and asked for 15 green chillies. He consumed them all, after which he began sneezing. Water was streaming out of his eyes and nose. Fifteen minutes later, he said that he was rid of his cold and ready to perform.
Another example of his humility was his disregard for the difference between a senior musician and the younger junior artistes. It is an established tradition for a musician, as he approaches the stage to perform, to seek the permission of a senior musician if he or she happens to be present. At concerts, even if there was a younger musician present, Panditji would actually seek their permission. And this gesture was coming from someone who had actually performed after Amir Khan ji, himself a colossus of Hindustani classical music, at a concert. Such was his stature and such was his humility.
As told to Himanshu Bhagat.