It is a widely accepted fact that music has the ability to soothe, calm and make a tensed person relax. Medical sciences have referred to it as a therapeutic way of reducing the impact of stress in our daily lives. It creates a relaxing atmosphere for any type of activity. Creative expressions such as art, literature, music etc. have the ability to cut across manmade boundaries and unite people.
It is one of those frozen moments. In the space of a few years we seem to have lost most of the artists who shaped a national cultural consciousness over the past six decades. Artists who drew the very contours of musical traditions, theatrical and performative practices and visual lexicons. And now, with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's demise, over eight flourishing decades of the Kirana Gharana initiated by Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and Ustad Abdul Waheed Khan has finally returned to "sama"(tranquility). An entire musical legacy has folded into itself.
To the people who do not listen classical music, will remember the legend as the who opened the cult national integration song "Mile Sur Mera Tumhara" aired in Doordarshan. It is commonplace to lament the passing of great artists and events that usher in the end of an era. In the case of Pandit Joshi, this is true for more reasons than one. Not only he was a legendary singer par excellence, but also because he was probably among the last in a line of musicians who gave a new direction to the history of Indian classical music in the twentieth century.
The maestro was unsurpassed in his brilliant interpretations and renditions. He was the one who initiated me to listening to classical music. My earliest recollection of devotional music was a Marathi abhang by him titled "Majhe Maher Pandhari". Even today, one can imagine some boy or girl, in some corner of the country, hearing Bhimsen Joshi for the first time--on the radio, on a record, on Youtube--that slow, sonorous thunderclap of an alaap washing across the sound landscape, a mid-tempo bandish cutting through the traffic snarls and the cawing of crows, the quarrelling of neighbours and the cricket commentary; the higher edges of that timeless voice cutting through the brilliance of Lata Mangeshkar, Mohd. Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar and RD Burman, through all the mediocre composers such as Bappi Lahiri at one end and the musical geniuses like AR Rahman and Amit Trivedi on the other end.
It is deeply unfortunate, but no less telling, that Pandit Joshi, did not leave behind many prominent disciples. He is believed to have attributed this failure to the lack of devotion and discipline that he noted among the current breed of youngsters. Indeed, it may not be entirely unfair to read into this symptoms the sign of classical music has, over the last few decades, gradually exerted a stronghold over the cultural life in India.
The decline of robust classical tradition of learning, especially in the arts, has finally come a full circle in the country. One of the effects of such a phenomenon is perceived in the palpable waning of standards of excellence in performing arts. It is unlikely that anyone among the current or aspiring artists would ever be able to scale the sublime heights that the doyens of the past managed to scale. With the globalization of music and its entry into the market, the stress has inevitably shifted from the need to acquire, preserve and develop a knowledge base, handed down to us by the great masters of the past, to the more attractive packaging and gimmickry. Now, with Pandit Joshi's demise, the flickering embers of that tradition of classical music have been finally extinguished.