The late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi goes into the rewind mode in this interview, perhaps his last to the media.
“It was pneumonia. I suffered a lot. Now I am all right and am breathing evenly. I still want to sing and told my doctors that only singing a beautiful raga could save me but they forbade me. My father Gururaj Joshi was a noted educationist in Gadag in Dharwar district, Karnataka, where I born. I used to struggle with this gayaki and now on this bed I will rest with a kind of mystic gayaki till my last breath.’
These were the words uttered by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi from his Pune residence over the telephone, having just returned from a local nursing home in the month of April, 2008. After receiving Bharat Ratna, no formal interview had been made due to his couple of operations and bed rest including his vocal expression. But brief telephonic conversations took place now and then. This began with his inquiry when he heard about Pandit Kishan Maharaj’s illness in 2007.
Kishan Maharaj had just come back from a local nursing home in Varanasi. He was also worried about Joshi’s ill health. So this could become an invisible and indirect dialogue between these two stalwarts. Actually a subconscious thought was worrying Joshi’s mind about Kishan maharaj because he had witnessed the sudden departure of Pandit Samta Prasad of Banaras when he was in Pune for a prestigious concert hosted by Bhimsenji. He used to refer to that incidence.
He also used to refer to his Banaras experiences. He wanted to recall those related to Kishan Maharaj and Samta Prasad. “I have never heard Abdul Karim Khan Saheb but whenever I sing raga Shuddha Kalyan, his emotional renderings appear naturally. But when I sing raga Puriya Kalyan, the orthodox style of my own tradition takes over, for the method of handling the notes is slightly different in both the traditions though the gharana is the same. (“Sur lagaane ka tareeqa alag hai. Aur ye sur laga tha Banaras me.”)
Most listeners are familiar with the bhajan, “Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sada...,” which Joshi made famous. Pandit Ravi Shankar had invited Bhimsenji in the late Seventies to his organisation, RIMPA in Banaras. He came from Pune despite his busy schedule. Serious listeners of Banaras were eager to hear his rendition of raga Shuddha Kalyan. But when he appeared on the stage, the audience pleaded for “Jo Bhaje Hari ko Sada.” They wanted to listen to him sing that bhajan in person, having grown up hearing it on All India Radio and Radio Ceylon.
Pandit Kishan Maharaj convinced the audience that since Pandit Bhimsen had come from far, he would first present khayal and would then certainly sing the beloved bhajan. The seasoned artist first sang Bada khayal, Chhota khayal and tarana in raga Puriya Kalyan and then finished his concert with that popular bhajan. Pandit Bhimsen explained, “In Gwalior, Hafiz Ali Khan Saheb told me the difference between Marwa, Puriya and Lalit. At the same time, Vinayak Rao Patwardhan suggested that I make Sawai Gandharva my guru.” He continued, “And this is how I found my guru after a long and difficult path. My guru demonstrated the four ragas, Thodi, Multani, Puriya and Marwa and that’s how I learnt Sadja correctly.”
Bhimsen first visited Banaras in the late Sixties for a concert organised by Sangit Parisad. He made two more visits. Pt. Ravi Shankar was there at RIMPA to felicitate him. These were the recollections of Joshiji in the last four years on his bed. He tried to make those musical memories last for an eternity though he had now in his mind the departures of Samta Prasad and Kishan Maharaj.