The driver of my taxi talked to me in North Karnataka dialect of Kannada. So I asked him where he hailed from. He said he was from Gadag. We both fell silent.
He started talking without any apparent trigger. From what he told me and the way he told me, it was clear that he had been itching to share his recent experience and his feelings. What he told me was this.
He had discovered Bhimsen Joshi the previous evening. He had listened to a programme on the radio about him. He felt very small that Bhimsen Joshi was from his own district, practically his neighbour and he had not heard about him at all, all these days. He was deeply moved by his singing. (ಏನು ಹಾಡ್ತಾರ್ರೀ!!!!) His hair on the nape of his neck had stood when he listened to him. (ಕತ್ತ್ ಮ್ಯಾಲಿನ್ ಕೂದಲು ಹಾಂಗೇ ನಿಂತ್ಬಿಟ್ಟ್ವುರೀ) He went on to tell me how Bhimsen Joshi came to Dharwad, how he left home in search of a guru and so on.
He was pensive for a while. He then told me that his family has three acres of dry land and that his brother tends to it. He was feeling a little low the previous day and was seriously considering going back to Gadag. Once he listened to Bhimsen Joshi, he felt at peace and his mind calmed down. He decided to continue in Bangalore.
What this told me are:
I am always skeptical about the claims about the power of music, especially classical music. I feel that it affects people who have been lucky enough to be exposed to it from childhood. His story reduced my skepticism a little.
There are three important things in real estate business, they say. They are location, location and location. Similarly for any art. Context, context and context. (See this video) Like Bhimsen Joshi, this man was from Gadag. He was feeling depressed. Music does have the power to calm and heal and uplift. The combination worked magic. The skeptic in me still wonders if he would have felt the same if he had listened to, say, the story of Jasraj and his singing. Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Mallikarjun Mansur? Maybe, he would have stood a better chance.
How great a singer was Bhimsen Joshi? There are great admirers of his, who have told me that he did not have as big a repertoire of raagas as he could have had. He sang well within his immense capabilities and never really challenged himself. Even if we agree that that is a fair assessment, what he did sing was very powerful – in more ways than one.
I suggested to my driver, Sharanappa, that he listen to Bhimsen Joshi’s Dasvaani and Abhangvaani. He showed me his memory stick and said, "I will fill this up with them and listen". (ಇದ್ರೊಳಗ್ ತುಂಬ್ಶಿ ಕೇಳ್ತೀನ್ರಿ.