In January 1946, the Poona Music Club organised a major concert in Hirabaug to celebrate the 60th birthday of the living legend Sawai Gandharva; but the event would become a landmark in the history of India’s classical music because of another musician, Gandharva’s 24-year-old disciple Bhimsen Joshi.
Joshi, who had become popular by singing for the All India Radio, was assigned the opening slot in the concert because he was quite junior. “This was his debut concert on a public platform… he was a little anxious,” writes Kasturi Paigude Rane in the book, Pt Bhimsen Joshi. But, the vocalist “mesmerised the listeners and put them in a trance… the overjoyed guru was extremely proud”. Joshi, who would become one of India’s greatest musicians, would say that the concert changed the course of his life and “propelled him to fame in the true sense of the term”.
February 4 marked the birth centenary of Joshi, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 88 in Pune. “A lot of people don’t know that he was born in Gadag in Dharwad, Karnataka, which was a part of Bombay Presidency, in 1922 and that his mother tongue was Kannada. He learnt Marathi later. At home, he enjoyed bhakri, which is popular in northern Karnataka, as well as gur-poli that was made during Sankrant, though he was strict about food and rarely ate more than twice a day,” says Joshi’s daughter Subhada Mulgund, who used to accompany him on the tanpura.
Joshi’s father Gururaj Joshi was a teacher who had graduated from Fergusson College in Pune. The city would later feature more prominently in the vocalist’s life. The first time he had set foot in Pune was as a young runaway who had set out to find a guru in Gwalior but boarded the wrong train at Bijapur station. “He knew he had to get to Gwalior somehow but was not sure which route would get him there. Hence, he took a train to Pune and travelled without a ticket again. He managed to entertain his fellow passengers and the ticket checkers with his music and was able to get to Pune without being stopped by the railway staff at the exit point,” writes Rane. Without money or food, Joshi had wandered the streets of Pune and tried to make money by singing.
After travelling through large parts of India, he found his guru, Gandharva, and lived in the village next to his own in Karnataka. He trained with Gandharva till 1940 and is counted among the latter’s foremost disciples.
In 1950, Joshi settled down in Pune, which had a very knowledgeable classical music milieu …….