Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s passing away marks the end of an era of a timeless legacy. He was truly a monumental icon of music and the Kohinoor of our music world. Though he was the man he was, humility and simplicity were his major personality traits.On hearing of Panditji’s ill health a few months ago, I had called Panditji’s residence in Pune and conveyed my greetings to him. I could feel the ecstasy of joy and happiness in his voice. I really felt very happy to talk to him after such a long time. Over the last few months, it was sad to know about the deterioration of his health. Ironically, I had a concert yesterday in Pune and I visited him in hospital, though he was on the ventilator in a sad health condition. I was very sad to see him suffer.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi belonged to the unique ‘Kirana’ gharana. In fact, as a young struggling musician, he heard a recording of Abdul Karim Khan Saheb of Kirana gharana singing ‘Piya milan ki aas’ and ‘Piya bin nahin awat chain’, both Thumris.
Panditji had often mentioned that the appeal and impact of this recording was so powerful that he seriously decided to become a classical vocalist and in admiration of Khan Saheb he said, “If one has to sing, he should sing like Abdul Karim Khan Saheb only.”
My father always said it’s more interesting and satisfying to see a student mention that so and so is my guru as opposed to the guru claiming students!
I witnessed a testimony to this statement when I invited Bhimsenji to sing at my father’s memorial festival in Mumbai in 1975. I received a personal note from him which spoke volumes for itself.
Panditji mentioned that during his struggling days, he learnt from many great gurus but he also came to Gwalior for three years and learnt from my father, Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb.
In fact, he lived in our house (now Sarod Ghar, the museum) at Jiwaji Ganj in Gwalior. Panditji especially mentioned learning the intricacies of Raga Maarwa and Raga Puriya. As both the ragas have the same musical notes, to maintain the character of each is a challenge for all artists.
Panditji often mentioned that if any classical musician can sing and differentiate the character of both the ragas, then he will be considered of some stature. In many of his interviews Panditji always mentioned my father’s name among his gurus.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi became the symbol of vocal music in India. Every time I visited Pune to perform at the Sawai Gandharva Music festival that he would organise, Panditji used to take me to the stage and address the audience in Marathi, saying that I am his gurubhai (son of one’s guru). It was a permanent feature that after performing at the Sawai Gandharva Festival, the lunch next day would be at Panditji’s residence.
Once, on my wife Subhalakshmi’s request, Panditji sang in our humble residence on the eve of my birthday. It was perhaps the best gift I ever received.
He sang for over three hours and after his recital, we had dinner together, which was then breakfast as it was in the wee hours of the morning!
I am happy that the government of India bestowed Pt Bhimsen Joshi with the country’s highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, while he was actively serving the world of music.
I will miss him no end and the time and years that I have spent with him will remain in my heart for eternity. May his soul rest in peace!