Saturday, April 7, 2012
Gouri Dange (appeared in TOI on Panditji’s 80th birthday)
Bhimsen Joshi has turned 80. I say Bhimsen Joshi, not Pandit, not Swar Samraat, none of those appellations - because as many pointed out at a felicitation for him on Saturday, he is truly above and beyond the titles. Sitting quietly on the dais, while people spoke lovingly and eloquently about him, Bhimsen Joshi had the detached expression of a small child - to whom the words mean nothing, but who simply sits there taking in the spectacle of it all. At one stage he even dozed off, while references to his mastery, his contribution, his fame were moving the audience to agreeing nods and tears. Is this not true greatness? To be so inside your self, your art, that words don't matter. That you can nod off while the paeans are playing on. When he spoke briefly later, he made a twinkling reference to his little nap, even miming how he woke up with a start to hear the superlatives being heaped on him!
Around an ageing, well-loved person, is usually a fine but strong web of 'loving immunity' - woven by the people who have journeyed long with him. It is like that with Bhimsen Joshi now - an adored and respected patriarch of a sprawling family of musicians and listeners, who flock devoutly around him. Everything about him becomes precious and intriguing.
Such a patriarch is both god-like and child-like, sometimes indulging, sometimes indulged. I once accompanied a friend who, during an interview with him, asked: "Panditji, what do you do when you are not doing music?" He grinned at us and announced joyously: “I drive my 'motaar' or I play with my dog.”
Bhaskar Chandavarkar, speaking at the felicitation - spoke of how Bhimsen Joshi erects the edifice of a raag, and then takes you on a guided tour - showing you grand rooms, tall roofs, little niches, surprising details. Uncannily, it described precisely what so many listeners have experienced. At times the metaphor is different - one feels that he is firmly in the 'driver's seat' of a huge, powerful vehicle, and he's taking you along for the ride. You are safe up there with him, seeing his world as he sees it, sure that he will take you expertly to a destination that unfolds to him as he goes along.
Many of us, particularly in the world of Indian music, are prone to be in a chronic state of nostalgia. We bemoan the fact that all the music legends were born and soared in an era before we showed up. Stories about them, old pictures and recordings, are what we hang on to - peering deeply, listening hard, wishing we could shrink the decades into at least one moment of connecting.. We are celebrating Bhimsen Joshi's sahastrachandra darshan - he has seen a thousand moons. And we realize with a pleasant shock that we too have seen some of those very same moons. Indeed we are blessed to be in the same active present, the same geographical space, as Bhimsen Joshi's reverberating and cosmic Sa.