Shrinivas Joshi, son of the legendary Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, finds his father an everlasting musical challenge
It is not easy being your father's son; especially when you have a giant of a talent for your father. Being Shrinivas Joshi, son of the unparalleled Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, is no easy task. The challenges that come from one's own self apart from the high standards the world sets for you is overwhelming.
For a good part of his life, it seemed as if Shrinivas was out of this daunting proposal: he was busy shaping his life as an engineer at IIT. Though at times during the course he felt like a fish out of water, he managed to complete it. “My mother always accompanied my father on his concert tours. But she suffered from a minor paralysis, and I had to step in for her,” says Shrinivas, recalling the early days of his tryst with music. “Initially, I just sat behind my father playing the tanpura, occasionally holding a note, but over a period of time I suddenly found myself providing vocal support.”
Over a period of time, Shrinivas realised that music was his calling. “I knew the decision was a tough one, also considering that I had started late. However, my aim was high. No aim is crime. And I have always seen obstacles as opportunities. If you approach them positively, it can be helpful,” he explains.
Each of the maestro's children knew their father's greatness as a musician; they were aware of the aura around him. However, as a person, Bhimsen Joshi was a simple, direct and unpretentious man and accessible. “I had no difficulty relating to my father, but as a musician, he was an everlasting challenge. I never hero-worshipped my father, though he did have hero-like qualities. He was like the mythological Bhima, big, strong and fearless!” Bhimsen Joshi not only spoke his mind, but challenged himself to achieve the impossible without worrying about the results it fetched. The pursuit was always most important for him.
“People often force their notions upon you. They force my father on me – how can I be him? And why should I? The Panditji that these people are trying to morph on me is the one they have seen and heard in the last 25 years. They have not heard him in his early music years, but they expect me to sound like he did in the highpoint of his career. It is unreasonable. When I'm clear that it is for myself I'm doing all this, what is there to face?” The bouquets and brickbats worried Shrinivas in the beginning, but now he knows how to handle them.
Bhimsen Joshi knew how to rope in both sections of the audience — the common listener and the connoisseur. Even while he wanted to please his audience, he worried about his music and one could catch him constantly evaluating and thinking about his music. “Of course he was lucky that in the later years he could take liberties. He was willing to set new challenges for himself, do new things and he was very lucky that the audience participated in this process. It is in these years that his music became very contemplative. He would often say that the musician has to experience an inner ‘anand'. ‘If my music makes me happy it will make others happy as well', he believed. I strongly believe in it too,” explains Shrinivas.
It may have been difficult to ask Panditji ‘why.' Was the learning process unilateral? “He was never a teacher by temperament. Moreover, he used to be away for 20 to 30 days in a month. When he was around, I had to somehow convince and coax him to teach me. He was intimidating as a musician, but since I had assumed many roles – son/caretaker/secretary and body guard — I was an exceptional case and could ask him why,” says Shrinivas.
There were times when Panditji sang the same raga in successive concerts and Shrinivas would ask his father to change his concert plan. Why gamak here, why taan there — Shrinivas had a barrage of questions. “He never showered me with great answers, but his observations were always precise. After 15 years, I find that he was aesthetically right.”
Shrinivas has been listening to music all his life. His mother Vatsala was a musician in her own right and in fact, sang the chaste Kirana style unlike Panditji who had evolved a style of his own. “My mother was very passionate about her music. When I listened to her, I was able to perceive what real Kirana gharana music was and how it evolved in my father. Developing a script is important. With the help of time-tested techniques, you have to infuse some sense into what you are doing. I don't want to sound like a copy of my father,” says Shrinivas.
Panditji belonged to a different time and a value system that one can hardly comprehend in these times. Learning from him not only poses practical difficulties, but also throws up philosophical tangles. “I think there is something common among all great performers – take for instance, Charlie Chaplin, Amitabh Bachchan or my father. There is in them something intangible, which they infuse into their art. I don't have any answers but I want to wait and see if I will get any…,” ponders Shrinivas. “I keep listening to my father and other musicians of his time. It's a charm that never wears out. Sometimes I wonder if they are what we call miracles… they say a true miracle never looks like one. But now music is so antiseptic, there is a starting point and an ending point…”
Even a few minutes with Shrinivas and you know he is constantly thinking: about his music, his father and his music, where they converge and where they part ways. He admits to few confusions, but he recognises the challenges are imposing. “As a boy of eight, my father knew exactly what he was doing. He was able to drop everything and chase music wildly. He is a fakir-like person, detached in many ways. It is hard to be like him.”
Shrinivas recalls the recent episode of Panditji being conferred the Bharath Ratna. It was 10.45 p.m. and Panditji was almost going to sleep when Shrinivas saw the ticker on television. He ran to his father's room, held him by the shoulder and shook him. Panditji looked up and an elated Shrinivas said, “Baba, you've got the Bharat Ratna!” “Okay,” he replied and turned to sleep.