Sunday, 12 July 2009

Meeting Bhimsen Joshi - I

This post has a long, varied history. It began life as an e-mail to a friend. Then, at his suggestion, I posted it to RMIC. Then years later, I was involved with setting up two separate blogs on music. One was of course this one, envisaged as a collective effort. The other was a solo deal called "Aavartan". I had originally posted it in the latter. But that venture turned out to be a bit of a non-starter. So I suppose reposting the article here is only a natural thing to do.

First, some mild self-aggrandisement. My biography of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, published by Rupa & Co, came out round the beginning of 2004. The reason I mention it is that it has everything to do with the events narrated below. In the course of writing it, I had interviewed Mr. Amar Mishra (who incidentally passed away a couple of months ago). He was instrumental in setting up the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, and was also a close personal friend of Panditji. When I heard that Bhimsen was scheduled to sing at the ITC Sammelan in New Delhi this year, I contacted Mr. Mishra to find out if I could get to meet him.

Anyway, on the day of the recital, he and I made our way to the green room. Panditji arrived a few minutes later, a frail, shrivelled man with a woollen cap on his head and an air of extreme dejection and bewilderment about him. He was shunted onto a wheelchair and pushed into the green room. Mr. Mishra was busy talking to his other acquaintances, so I went inside, introduced myself to Sh. Srinivas Joshi, Panditji's son, and showed him a copy of the book. His interest grew when he saw the Rupa label, then he passed it on to his father. I asked him if Panditji could autograph my copy, but he declined, saying his father suffered from weakness in the limbs.

That is when Mr. Mishra came in, and introduced me to Panditji. The conversation turned back to the book for a little while. As we were taking our leave, I once again asked Srinivasji if an autograph was absloutely out of the question. He told me to accompany Mr. Mishra the next day (he'd been given an appointment earlier), because if Panditji signed one autograph, others would immediately pile on.

[Continued in Part II]


Unknown said...

Funnily enough when I read your biography of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, I felt that the author had not done the amount of research someone like me would have wanted to read. So now that I understand that you could not even meet the person whose biography you were writing...I understand your position in the same. This is not to disparage you but a note of solidarity in fact!

On the other hand, when I myself wrote about some aspects about the life of Kumar Gandharva, I had done a whole lot of work and research, and that naturally made the writing that much academic,though naturally it was not a biography but an analysis within the context of identity and how it is created/transformed due to an illness experience. (Also mine was a journal paper, not a book)

Abhik Majumdar said...

Dear Prateeksha Sharma,

I may not have met Panditji prior to writing the book, but let me assure you I had done quite enough research for the purpose of generating an introductory volume intended for the complete layperson. Which, if you have not noticed, is precisely what the book is. I can only express much regret that you did not find in the book qualities you seek in a work of academic research, but is it possible you looked in the wrong place? The book is not intended as a work of academic research, neither does it make any pretensions to that end. The publishers had also imposed strict word limits (in keeping with its target audience who might get turned off by a heavier volume). Hence even if I had wanted to conduct further research, it is highly unlikely I would have had the space to include it!

Lastly, I fail to see the point of your comparing your academic research with a work intended for novitates. I am sure you put in immense amounts of research, which is certainly commendable (honestly), but is your work accessible to laypersons? That is, will a person with no background in music be able to understand your work? Would more research have made my book easier for laypersons to understand? I do not think so. If you disagree, or wish to add further observations or clarifications, please feel free to comment here. We at the DSS blog always welcome comments subject to our moderation policy.