I hate writing obituaries & especially of my favourite persons. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was unwell for months & he passed away today. May his soul rest in peace. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is my abso favourite classical music singer. I grew up in a house listening to him, i’ve got a collection of some of Panditji’s unreleased recordings. In addition, a municipal school adjacent to our kitchen played Ptji’s songs, abhangs & bhajans every morning before their bell rang. Pt Bhimsenji was like part of our daily living & household.
“Vithala tu veda Kumbhar…Vithala, Vithala,” Vithal Umap & Pt Bhimsen Joshi 2 sterling voices that will be missed..the true voice of nation we lost today as I heard the news. While personally i do feel he is a relieved man, at least he won’t have to suffer the way he did, respiratory failure, old age illnesses. i also will miss seeing his programmes, attending his baithaks. But he has left a strong legacy of Kirana gharana. His khayals, alaaps held me in rapture. Somehow he made his listeners feel he was part of their lives.
How? because he was simple. I was lucky to have heard Panditji’s music since childhood. I have patience & good ear to listen to classical music,i love classical music so i enjoy it. Raag Malhar, Bhoopali of Panditji, his Khyals especially when he held onto a note for long would sooth me. His natyasnageet recordings were nice and so were the innumerable bhajans.
May be many will get upset that i write this. However, when i was growing up i also remember hearing stories of Pandiji’s love for the drink. Sadly but true. There were reports of him missing concerts & his true supporters, the audiences began airing concerns of his future. It takes courage to accept one’s own fault & failure, keep it behind and go ahead in life. Panditji overcame this low phase in his life and how. He came out of this depression. He had sponsors & people who believed in his talent. But mostly his faith in himself was renewed. Sadly it took toll on his eldest son. Who interestingly has a lovely voice, but lived in the shadows of his father. He took to the bottle too. There were occasions when his son was a public embarrassment but that too Panditji took in his stride. I was a witness to one such incident in my college days. Panditji’s second wife was rock solid. She is one woman who really stood through his ups and downs. She pulled him out of doom & there he was back to his first love -Singing classical songs.
His performances were fantastic. His fans who never left his side and always had faith in him were there thronging his concerts. When i was in my last year of college i got an opprtunity to take photographs of leading maestros for IMG Jan Fest. They included Pandit Bhimsen Joshi & few other maestros. The most supporting were Panditji, Zakir Hussain who floored me with compliments & Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur -he was sooo adorable & lastly Ustaad Allah Rakha. He was thrilled i recognised him as a young student & requested if I could take his photo. I made one friend then, who sadly passed away before the other 2. Panditji was very encouraging.
Indian Music Group sponsored by Britannia company held the annual IMG nights at St. Xavier’s college. The society’s who”s who would attend. Not many understood, many didn’t even claim to hide their ignorance, but many would come so that they were seen. Panditji could read people. He understood. But he also knew the truth that they were the ones who had the money. However he would not let it bother him. He had a smart wife who tackled them well. He did what he knew the best, “Sang.”
Though let me highlight one thing here. He encouraged the youngsters, students. He told me i could whatever photographs i needed. He only made it clear, “Don’t use that flash child, it disturbs us.” I told Panditji, “It is 1600 asa role, high speed ahe, muleech flash vapanar nahi.” can you believe to what level this conversation had taken me? Up in the sky i was high. Imagine talking to THE maestro! swapnat pan khara vatla nasta.
Thereafter i followed Panditji like a shadow. He sat let me click him in his most candid moments. He loved chewing tobacco, i asked and he smiled, ‘ghe’ is all he said. The above picture was taken when he was doing his riyaz inside the IMG music room. Being with panditji made me a lesser skeptic of a spirit, god, something inexplicable. Panditji is one person who i saw closely being connected to ‘god.’
He always got the prime slot, night time just pre-midnight. Panditji and rest of maestros had 2 hours time. max 4. Panditji saw NO time when he’d begin singing. He would simply sing. What dedication, what passion, what immense love for his art -music. I’d see that and say to myself, even if one tenth of that if i could achieve i’d consider myself lucky. I feel frustrated with my job, often with the bosses, especially when discrimination i feel really down, music uplifts me & at that time Hindustani classical music & i simply remember Panditji’s dedication.
What’s my pain in comparison to theirs, nothing. These maestros have achieved all this due to immense sacrifices, discipline, hard work & it also means struggle & pain. Ptji ha to run away to pursue his dream. Why is struggle only romanticised by Bollywood, which rakes in tons of money…Kumarji, Panditji, their devotion to their art is simply inspiring. In addition, Panditji was immensely simple & that came so naturally to him. He did NOT have to take efforts to be simple. He was. Panditji was humble but had such high thoughts, he was a great visionary & believed in the youngsters. He would come sit in a corner at Sawai Gandharva festival that he started as tribute to his guru. He would talk to public, it is us who feel shy of keeping away from such persons, but he was a model for us ordinary persons.
Panditji also had fantastic wit. He loved fast cars. He knew his cars in & out & the others too. He knew the gears, pick up, run calculations, Engine, parts, spare parts, he would go on fast drives down the Khandala ghats. In fact he told in his interviews if he weren’t a classical music singer, he would have become a car racer. He loved driving. I can imagine a stress buster is required for those who lead hectic lives & driving was for him. In fact once at NCPA all the rich aunties thronged around him, “Panditji panditji…” he looked at 2 of his friends & equated these ladies with ancient car, Bentley. They had a hearty laugh & he didn’t get upset even after NCPA organisers showered him with a mogra flower shawl. The mogra shwal one puts on a idol, dead person’s kabrasthan. Someone else in his place would’ve created a ruckus, thrown a tantrum. He cracked jokes with his friends & pardoned these elite clueless humans. This is the crowd that recognised Panditji only to “Miley sur mera tumhara…” they should Thank Arti & Kaislash Surendranath to realise this maestro’s worth….Panditji wouldn’t get offended because he acknowledged it as their lack of knowledge. Immense insight & understanding of life that is.
Panditji unlike few playback singers & contemporaries never counted his monies. And may be that was the reason he could remain so simple, humble, connected to people & enjoy such warmth. Not that he didn’t command a high fee. But the difference was, he didn’t only weigh his art in terms of money. He threw NO tantrums like few others. He didn’t make his disciples dominate his shows & just add some sur, well many classical musicians did so. We’d bitch saying, “Shikavnya chalu ahet!” lol!. Panditji would sing his songs cough or fever. He was someone special. He took the song to another level & one actually felt he was in another world when he sang the bhajans. Which god would have ignored him.
I’m his huge fan, like i said I don’t like orbits. He will live on always in my life, ears, in this world…always..thank you Pt Bhimsen Joshi…you meant a lot to me…