Monday, 13 July 2009

Meeting Bhimsen Joshi - II

[Continued from Part I]

The recital, when it began, bore all the signs of a full-scale disaster. Panditji took his time to find his sur. When he began, his voice was so hoarse and shaky one couldn't discern any notes at all. I'm an avid fan of Panditji's, but have never really warmed to his interpretation of certain Ragas like Shuddha Kalyan. And I was dreading he'd present just that. Certainly, the singing gave us no clue. For the first three minutes I couldn't make out anything of the raga, except that the rishabha seemed a bit flat for Kalyan. After a while, the contours of Pooriya began to emerge. Then without warning, he paused abruptly on the pancham, and began "aaj so bana" in Pooriya Kalyan. All was revealed!

It took him about ten minutes to fully warm up. But once he did he was roaring like a lion just the way he used to twenty years ago. Vintage Bhimsen every inch. His heavy gamak taans were right there in place, as were all his old tricks, pukars, surprisingly accurate laykari (except for a few miscueings), voice modulations etc. But what really moved all of us in the audience was that he took just as much pleasure in his singing as he did in his prime.

His age showed only rarely, such as when he mistimed the 'sam' a couple of times. Anand Gopal Bandyopadhyaya on the tabla was very understanding, and skillfully covered up such rare lapses.

The Khayal was followed by a Dadra in Mishra Gara, and then "Jo Bhaje Hari Ko Sada" in Bhairavi. I say 'Followed', because it was almost the literal truth. He would finish one item, take exactly one long breath, a pause of about fifteen seconds, and proceed to the next one. In a man one-third his age, such a commanding display would have been commendable. At his age and health it was nothing short of a tour de force.

[Continued in Part III]


sumanta226 said...


It was a pleasure reading your book on Pandit-ji. But these three installments make me positively jealous.

I agree that in his later recordings, one does have to be a little patient in the beginning (and occasionally towards the end). But, you know what, I'll BE PATIENT.:)

Thank you for sharing this. Seriously.


Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

You are writing honestly from your experience Abhik, and some of these grand old persons probably hate sympathy, but I would enjoy posts which are about artists' performance in their prime rather than in their declining years, especially after illness. you may find similar things to ponder over even in earlier tapes. and btw, for the record the phrase is "aaj aiso bana" though bhimsenji always says "aaj sobana" which quite changes what it means!

Abhik Majumdar said...

@ Sumanta:

> I agree that in his later recordings, one does have to be a little patient in the beginning (and occasionally towards the end). But, you know what, I'll BE PATIENT.:)

Heh heh, you might get away with being a little less patient than you thought. I knew I had a recording of this recital, but thought I had left it behind in Delhi. Just now I went through my DVDs on a hunch, and sure enough it is here with me!! I'll talk to the other blog members to see if they are ok with uploading recordings.

Abhik Majumdar said...

@ Anjali:

Hang in there, we'll certainly write about performers in their prime. When Bhimsen was in his prime (including the time he sang at SPV our common alma mater), I was musically too young. So I'll leave that to my elders and betters to write about. That means you, in case you didn't realise.

Then again, this programme was special. He was old, very ill, and yet what he generated was stupendous.

About the words of the bandish, I haven't heard anyone sing 'aiso'. OTOH, a number of people, including Amir Khan and my own mentor Mahendra Toke, have rendered it 'aaj so bana'. But then these lyrics have a habit of transmuting across time and gharanas, so your version could well be correct.

A line in the popular Gaud Malhar bandish 'Jiski jaisi / Kisko aisi baat ho' originally went 'rahe Mauj Piya sang jo apne' (when Mauj Piya remains with oneself - Mauj Piya being the takhallus of the composer). Today almost everyone renders it as "kare mauj piya sang jo apne" (she who has a good time with her lover).

Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

@AM: hmm, i'm obviously not talking about live performances (of course the effect being totally different, irreproducabe etc) i meant recordings from the past of when for eg bhimsenji was in his prime. lets leave discussions of our ages out of the picture here, none of us really revise our opinions based purely on reverence for age, so lets stick to other arguments ;)
regarding "aaj aiso bana" the rest of the bandish (which i have learnt from my guru pt. mani prasad, very much of kirana gharana) is a description of a wedding/groom/bride. "banare ke sar pan sone ka sehera, banari ki maang bharavan deri" is the asthai, so the first line being "aaj aiso bana, bana aayo" makes amply more sense than "aaj sobana", my guru also happens to place emphasis on the sahitya, and comes from a long lineage of kirana stalwarts, i'm sorry a mutated version is doing the rounds (that too so many).

Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

ps: read as "banare ke sar PAR" in my earlier post.

Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

pps-"banare ke sar par.." is the antara not the asthai.

Abhik Majumdar said...

> lets leave discussions of our ages out of the picture here, none of us really revise our opinions based purely on reverence for age

Uh, that was a not so subtle hint to get you to start writing. The hint still stands, hint hint!!

> i meant recordings from the past

In itself an excellent idea. So which recording would you like to write about?

> the rest of the bandish

You seem to be talking about a related but distinct bandish. The one Bhimsen Joshi and Amir Khan sang (and in the case of the latter, sang as far back as 1933-34) goes "Aaj so banaa ban aayo re, laad ladavan de".

I'm not sure about the antara; online sources quote it as "banre ke sir sahera motiya biraje, banari ke mana bihave"

Same theme, (presumably) same raga, similar words, but too dissimilar to be considered variations of the same bandish.

Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

abhik, you saw my last post, the antara is "banare ke sar par..." the asthai is what we are supposedly arguing about. according to my guru pt. maniprasadji, it is "aaj aiso bana, bana aayo, laad ladaavan deri mayee" (different from what bhimsenji sings, and what you have quoted) and "aaj sobana..." according to bhimsenji. it is not at all that distinct a bandish and there is no doubt about the raaga being the same, puriya kalyan. it is very common for words to get mixed up/changed over time. maybe local dialects influence bandish's, that is an interesting point, but it is not a different bandish in composition. also, the words have just been garbled by some. i'm not just being defensive here, but some of these pieces have been in families for generations, in particular i'm sure guruji was also hearing and singing this as far back as 1933, if not his father who was also a great musician and his guru. its been on my mind also to do a piece on maniprasadji, maybe sometime next month when i'm in delhi.

Abhik Majumdar said...

I think this discussion ought to end here. It is possible that the two may be mutants of the same bandish, as you suggest. It is not impossible either that they emerged independently, or that one was created consciously as a modification or improvement of the other. What I will not engage in here is contemplate an either/or situation, as in where only one is upheld as "valid" to the exclusion of the other. As things stand now, both compositions have gained popular currency (indeed, 'Aaj so bana' rather more so, and across different gharanas). Deliberating on validity, or rightness/wrongness of either bandish will be not only inconclusive and contentious, it won't serve any discernible purpose either, since identifying one as invalid is not likely to affect its popularity among performers. So let us leave it at that.

Anjali Gopalakrishnan said...

There seems to be a typo in what I wrote in the course of our discussion. The version I have learnt, for all who may chance upon this page is:
aaj aiso bana, bana aayo,
laad ladavan deri maaee
banare ke sar par sone ka sehera
banari ki maang, motiyan bharavan
deri maaeee.
The word motiyan was missing.