IN the past one year several celebrities have passed away, but they all went practically unnoticed by the media. But the death of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi has struck a chord, it seems, in millions of hearts and the outpourings of feelings expressed in so many ways is indicative of the respect which he has commanded for over six decades.
The New Indian Express (January 26) said that “the mourners who converged at the Maratha city (Pune) were not just huge (because) the art lovers among them ranged from popular-music buffs to scholars of hard-core North Indian classical”. Stating that “winning the hearts of people with varied tastes was always a key feature of Pt Joshi”, the paper said “it is a faculty that only an eclectic mind can generate”. “Such was Pt Joshi’s genius” said the paper, “that he emerged a school of rendition in himself”. On his singing itself, the paper said that “the taans came with kalieidoscopic effect-the quick roll of the notes bore a graceful rustle that would, the next second, gear up to produce a nasal crooning at the top”. “Each bit was like a gem, typical of the Bharat Ratna awardee”.
Deccan Herald (January 25) said that “with the passing away of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the classical music world has lost a colossus and an era has ended”. It said: “Pandit Joshi was an unmatched expondent of the Kirana gharana (and) his rendering of classical melodies like Marwa and Puriya” would send listeners to raptures. Nothing that Pt Joshi was “celebrated for his eloquent expression of the light classical, devotional and the popular genre as well” the paper said that “like all creative people such as writers and artists, musicians too never die (but) continue to live in the body of their work”. “The place he has secured in our hearts” the paper concluded “will remain for ever”.
DNA (January 25) said that “Bhimsen Joshi shone among a galaxy of stars”, singing with abandon, and “would remain a shining example for a long time to come”. Commenting on his voice, the paper said it was the timbre in it “which did not remain merely mellifluous” with the notes lingering after he finished with them. Said the paper: “He was fully immersed in his singing, the quality that distinguishes a great singer from the ordinary. While the uninitiated were enchanted by his passionate recital, the connosieurs were left speechless”. And the paper added: “Joshi showed that there is no other way to keep the tradition of classical music alive except by singing it with all the passion at one’s command. That is what he did throughout his life with unmatched robustness of spirit”.
The Hindu (January 25), probably the only newspaper in India which regularly covers musical performances, said that “with the death of legendary vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, the world has lost not only a path-breaking Hindustani musician but the very embodiment of the guru-shishya tradition”. It was his ability to become immersed in his music, said the paper, “often to the point of forgetting himself, that explains his widespread and compelling appeal”. The paper noted Joshi’s “penchant for experimentation and assimilation” that resulted in “a broadening of tradition” and added: “His was a greatness marked by a reflexive spontaneity, one that did not lend itself to easy analysis but spoke wordlessly to the hearts of the audience”. Pandit Joshi, said the paper, “firmly believed that to serve his art form meant not just to practice what he had learnt and received, but to enrich it” adding that the Bharat Ratna, the nation’s highest honour which came to him in 2008 “was a most deserving honour for this unique and modest man who, while engaged with charting the evolution of music was both a follower and a creator of tradition”.
The Times of India (January 25) invited Girish Karnad to write an appreciation which was rightly front-paged. Karnad said that Bhimsen had “God’s gift, he went beyond it”. Karnad, however, wrote less about the man’s talent and more about his personal ideosyncracies, such as drinking, though he added that “drink he may have had, but he never disappointed a soul and no soul ever went back disappointed”. In what sounded like an obituary, Karnad referred frequently to Joshi’s drinking saying: “He would drink to a concert, collapse and emerge out of it, singing again. He had a fantastic physical fitness and his dedication to singing was total”. All one can say that this is a piece of tasteless writing. Pt Jasraj was more to the point when he wrote of Bhimsen’s death as “sunset at sunrise”.
The Asian Age (January 25) devoted an entire page to the musician’s legacy, quoting several musicians like one of his disciples who said, that his guru was “the biggest figure in Indian music after Tansen.” In writing about Bhimsen, Ipsitaa Panigrahi said: “We have lost a legend. As there is one moon, one sun and one earth, similarly we just had one Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. He is someone who taught the audience how to listen to Hindustani classical music”.
Actually it was DNA (January 25) which surpassed every other paper in discussing Bhimsen’s work and his stature. Tribute was given to him for starting the Swai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsav and Anand Deshmukh was quoted as saying that when Bhimsen sang the bhajan Teertha Vithal, the audience was tear-eyed. The paper quoted over a dozen artists including a vocalist like Begum Parveen Sultana and Rudra Veena and Sitar player Pandit Hundraj Divekar and the sum total of praise was described in four words: amar rahe sur hamara. Perhaps Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia should have the final word. He is quoted as saying: “Panditji was a saint of the classical music world. When he performed the world came to a standstill. Everything else was forgotten. He will live in our hearts for ever”. Many remembered some of his songs like jo bhaje Hari ko sada wo hi param pada payega and babula mora naihara and piya Milan ki aas.
Having said all this, one would like to ask a simple question of our media lords: why is it that hardly any daily devotes a regular column to music, art and theatre criticism? Is it our fate only to see pictures of semi-nude female teenagers and pictures of socialites of whom no reader cares a damn? What many newspapers offer readers is, to say the least, sickening. Can’t we have something more professional and educational to enliven the few minutes citizens take to go through their daily newspaper reading?