Bhimsen Joshi, RIP: your music will live forever
The blogs and newspapers are awash with his obituaries. But for the soul of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, who called it a day on Monday morning and has possibly moved on to acquire a new body, the journey to the great beyond wouldn’t have been easy. Millions of Indians, largely Maharashtrians but also from rest of India and the world, must have held on to it with deep grief.
Joshi’s death is not an abstraction for me. It is not just another great musician gone. It is the loss of an institution of Hindustani classical music. And curiously, and for no reason whatsoever, the loss is personal.
As the first stream of morning news on Twitter shocked me into waking, I moved back to more than two decades ago, when as a student in college, I was organising Joshi’s concert. Towards the evening, we got a call that his tanpura accompanist was unwell. I was summoned and asked whether I could accompany the master on stage.
I said “Yes, of course!” This, when I had never held a tanpura, leave alone play it. I rushed to my friend who was then learning dhrupad music. In a space of 10 minutes, he taught me the technique. Luckily, I could play the tabla, so the beat sense was in place, just the fingers had to follow. I was ready. But when Joshi did come, his accompanist had recovered — and I lost my chance.
My relationship with Joshi, who would have turned 89 next month, like many of you who listen to classical music, only deepened with time. In his live concerts, his energy and devotion was moving. There was so much vitality in his voice — you can “see” it here — it was almost as if he was climbing out of the cassette player and physically holding your heart. Listening to his music and watching him in concerts, I believe, Joshi’s quest for music was not commercial or even academic. It was probably spiritual.
“Joshi left home in search of a proper guru and travelled to Rampur, Delhi, and even far- off Kolkata,” notes the entry on him in the recently-launched The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India. “He met many gurus, including Hafiz Ali Khan, Mustaq Hussain Khan, and Chand Khan. Bhimsen’s is a story of the travails of a seeker. He wandered, ticketless at times, with an obsessive mind but no guru took him seriously. Somewhere on his way back from Delhi he met the well-known Vinayakrao Patwardhan, who directed him to go to Sawai Gandharva. It is ironic that Joshi had to go to a village in the same region as his own village to meet Sawai Gandharva after all the extensive tours he made.”
Part of the Kirana gharana that “paid special attention to emotional expressiveness through a specially cultivated accuracy in the placement of svaras, reposeful alap, and systematic badhat in khayal”, Joshi was able to transcend the style and evolve his own. In this interview, he says there are three things that make a good musician: “A good guru. A good training (riyaz). And good luck.”
But more than styles and skill, it was Joshi’s bhakti, devotion and love that makes his music — that will echo with us till the end of time — endearing. This is something that
I’m probably not competent to analyse or comment or blog on. I will, therefore, leave you with his music. Listen to it, let it listen to you. I assure you that in its radiance and reflection, your soul will sing from within.
Maze maher pandhari — my favourite bhajan
If you want to see a younger Bhimsen Joshi’s vitality
Bhimsen Joshi: Live at Pune
A selective discography of Bhimsen Joshi
A documentary on — and interview with — Bhimsen Joshi