On an earlier occasion I had written about Gangubai Hangal and the loss I felt on her death [Death of a Doyenne, 28, July 20009]. Now I am writing about another maestro of Hindustani classical music who passed away three days ago. Collectively as a nation we have not achieved a great deal but have managed to throw up men and women of extraordinary talent and achievement. One such was Pundit Bhimsen Joshi.
Joshi was blessed with a rich voice over which he had extraordinary control. He would hold his listeners spell bound with his mastery over the various nuances of construction and delivery of the various ragas sung in the style of Kirana gharana. Many would be found with tears while listening to him, immersed in musical ecstasy. He was a simple man, who enjoyed life. Liked his drink, food and fast cars. Honors came to him aplenty including the nation’s highest, the Bharat ratna. Last few years of his life were not easy as he was very ill and his last performance was some four years back.
It is worth relating an interesting and unexpected encounter I had with him ten years ago at Mumbai. Four of us, all doctors had gone to Mumbai to attend a medical conference and stayed at a guest house. I was the medical advisor to the company which owned and operated the guest house. The major domo who managed the guest house was a Ghurka [native of Nepal]. When he came to know we were doctors he treated us with special attention and took lot of trouble to make us feel at home. The guest house had three rooms reserved for us for two days and we reached the guest house in the evening and made ourselves comfortable and after some light reading I went o bed. Around 1 am in the morning the major domo knocked on my door. I opened the door and asked him,’ what is the matter? Normally when a doctor is woken up at night there usually is a medical emergency. But this was none of that kind.’ Saab, [sir] some old singer [contempt in his voice] has come, says he has room booked here, office has not informed me’
I went to investigate. I saw the regal [he was a big built guy] persona of Bhimsen Joshi sitting with a glum face. There were flowers and mementoes placed on the next chair. There were few persons standing. These were his escorts who had come to see him safely home after the concert. It must have been galling to be told that the room meant for him was occupied by someone else. I was over whelmed and felt pretty bad that due to some ones error he had to suffer. Apologizing on behalf of the company, I requested him to take my room and I would move out to another one occupied by my friends. He appeared none too happy but I gave him no option and moved my belongings as quickly as possible, woke up my friend and slept on the floor of that room.
It must have been an hour or so later, there was another knock. I was barely asleep. I opened the door to find the major domo again. He said,’ that old singer [gayak] must be mad, he called some chela [disciple, friend] and he has gone away, he has asked me to get you back to the room, saab please come back’ He [Joshi] must have felt bad at disturbing me and had found alternate lodging. Not difficult for him considering the number of admirers he has all over the country. Many would consider it a privilege to host him.
I lost an opportunity of interacting with him at next day’s breakfast. But the ignorant Ghurka was full of apologies and criticism for the company which gives room to all kinds of musical riffraff and wanted me to inform the management not allow this sort of persons in to his esteemed establishment!