Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

I managed to get my hands on an old Films Division documentary about Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. I have to admit, I knew next to nothing about his life and work before I saw the film and I was amazed by it. What a guy! Okay, now since I don’t really know anything about Panditji, all of the below might be all wrong, so caveat lector.
Anyways, he ran away from Gadag when he was a young boy because he said there was no one to learn singing from in Gadag. So he hitched rides on trains, singing for the ticket inspector in exchange for not having a ticket. Sometimes, he says, I’d get a guy with no ear for music and he’d throw me in jail. It took him two-three months to get to Gwalior. After that he travelled extensively for his music, once settling in Lucknow for a few years to learn Thumri.
What struck me most throughout the film was the amazing obsession of the man with music. He’d do anything for it. He had no money he said, and yet he fuelled his obsession somehow. Today, even with all his success and acclaim, he seemed very down to earth, so much so that it began to seem to me as though for him, it was all just about the music.
In the guru’s house, no one looked at the watch. When the guru felt like giving taleem, that was when taleem would happen. And it would go on for as long as the guru wished. Hours and hours at times. Cut to Panditji saying - artist koi school ya college me se to paida nahi hote na. Reminded me of a conversation two friends of mine were having about the classical music education systems in India and the West (the Western method being more pedagogic). If Bhimsen says that a pedagogical method is unsuitable for his art, then that’s enough for me. I’m not going to argue with him.
This was a really nicely made film. It was made by Gulzar for the Films Division. The story of the “jugalbandi” between Bhimsen and Manna Dey was really wonderfully told. How come they never showed us films like this when we went to the movies way back when?
Surprisingly, I have actually been to a Pandit Bhimsen Joshi concert. This was when I was in college and fully into my heavy metal phase, but I went because my girlfriend wanted to go. She was at the film institute, so of course she had to give me a cultural education. I reached the venue trying my best to keep an open mind. I needn’t have bothered. Panditji blew me away that evening. Transported. Sublimated. Pulverised. From the moment he sang the first notes, even my unworthy ears could tell that what was happening here was no ordinary thing. I’m glad I knew that girl.