Monday, January 24, 2011

A Giant is no More - A Personal Tribute to Bhimsen Joshi

What a singer he was! (It hurts to use the past tense)

The first time I heard him live was in Bombay. 1980, I think. Until then my exposure to his music was only through the radio.

The concert was in Birla Mathusri Sabhagar. As I remember it, it is huge - at least compared to the smaller auditoria I was accustomed to in Mysore. The auditorium and and the stage dwarfed the man. My first thought was, "How is he going to fill this place?"

He took his time settling down. Fussed about the Tambura. Passed it on to the tambura player when he was satisfied. Then he sat facing the audience. Eyes closed. Back erect. Meditative, it looked. He cleared his throat vigorously, raised his right arm pointing N-W and elevation of 45 degrees and held Shadja.

It was time for the hall to be dwarfed. Make no mistake, there was electronic amplification. That amplified the volume, not the capacity to fill the auditorium.

I have forgotten what Raag it was. Purya Kalyan, perhaps. I remember that the petite girl friend of my friend closed her ears in awe at the first note, shivered, with eyes wide open in amazement. How the next three hours or so passed is not known.

That is what I will always remember whenever I hear him sing.

Another time, I heard his famous Daasa Vaani casette and in particular Karuniso Ranga Karuniso. When it ended, I noticed my shirt front was wet with tears. (1986, IIT Kharagpur, VS Hall)

Among the many greats that the small area of North Karnataka around Dharwar has given to Hindustani Music, the most famous was, perhaps, Bhimsen Joshi. I have heard some learned musicians say that he never achieved the real musical greatness that he was capable of and so on. His repertoire of Raagas and "chees" was limited, they say. For me and many many others none of it mattered. When he sang, we were transported. At least here, we can use the present tense. When he sings, we are transported, thanks to the many recordings we are lucky enough to have at our disposal.

Recently, someone mailed me about him referring to him by the community he belonged to. That reminded me of this I wrote about Gangu Bai Hangal some time ago.

1 comment:

  1. my knowledge of classical music is between zero and one. but i loved "Dasavani". it was one of the few casettes i possessed and listened till it got worn out. i had memorised the lyrics of a few and have shouted them out many times when i found no one else around in a radius of a kilometer. i wish i had heard him live atleast once.