TRIBUTE It's a year since Pandit Bhimsen Joshi passed away. The void cannot be filled — is hardly a cliché in his case
It's a year since Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's passing away, January 24, 2011. Grief has hastened the death of two of his closest disciples.
Exactly a week after Joshi's passing, his disciple Srikant Deshpande died of cancer. Deshpande was the grandson of Sawai Gandharva (one of the founding fathers of the Kirana style that Joshi made so famous), and had been one of Joshi's closest disciples. Deshpande had performed just a week before he died. In the words of tabla maestro Suresh Talwalkar, the responsibility of organising the Sawai Gandharva music festival in Pune had rested on his shoulders for some years, and he had “ably carried it forward.”
Similarly, in Dharwad, Madhav Gudi died three months after Joshi's death. Gudi had spent 26 years of his life with Joshi, and accompanied him on stage for decades. He died of a liver complication, but people close to him believe Joshi's death had left him bereaved in an intensely personal way.
When someone dies, it is common for mourners to say the void cannot be filled. In Joshi's case, that platitude has acquired the ring of absolute truth. Rajgopal Kallurkar, who runs the Kallur Mahalakshmi Tabla Vidyalaya in Bangalore, says, “Only two classical musicians could ensure full house at ticketed concerts: Joshi and Zakir Husain. Joshi's music was such that it even prompted people in Dharwad, who had heard all the greats for free, to buy tickets.”
Joshi's appeal sprang exclusively from his classical music. He could look as dashing as any showbiz icon, as those who have seen Gulzar documentary on him will testify. Yet, he never banked on glitz to sell his music.
In “Naadada Navaneeta”, a recently published Kannada book (edited by S. Diwakar), which puts together non-musicological writings on music, features two poems and an essay on Joshi, the highest number on any single artiste. Joshi was no stuffy classical musician, either. He retained a teenager-like love of cars all his life, and in his physically active days, drove like crazy, taking pride in feats that even the more foolhardy college kids would hesitate to undertake. He drank hard and had become an alcoholic. A tragic joke is that some who reverentially imitate Joshi have acquired his reckless qualities, but not his music.
In the year since his death, music labels have reissued his recordings. Many of his CDs are now available in mp3, which means you can carry around a sizeable chunk of his work on one disc. Given the affordability of mp3, Joshi's admirers may no longer have an excuse not to own his tracks.