I was 7 years old when I heard Pandit Bhimsen Joshi for the first time.
It was 1978, and my father was stationed in Wadsar, where the Indian Air Force had just set up a base. We, and ten other families, were the first occupants. Wadsar, then, was in the middle of nowhere. Other than the base, there was nothing. For every thing, from milk to movies, we had to drive for over an hour, to Ahmedabad.
In the winter holidays, Panditji would come here his family to spend a week with his younger brother, also in the Air Force. We were a gang of 15 kids, and all of us would line up at the gates, waiting for him to arrive, highly excited about a famous person visiting our colony.
Every night, after 7 pm, Panditji would have an adda, with his brother on the tabla. I, by virtue, of being best buddies with Rama and Dhruv, his niece and nephew, was among the few kids allowed inside their drawing room to listen. Most nights, he would allow us to hang around, watching us in a tolerant fashion, until our mothers would drag us off home. Their sessions, would carry on for a long, long time; his voice filling the cold. night sky.
Three years later, my father was transfered out, bringing an end to those encounters with Panditji. The connection to his music, I am glad to say, remained. First, through my father, and later my husband who made it a mission to acquire rare recordings. I saw Panditji again 25 years later, at a concert at the National Centre of Performing Arts in Mumbai. He had been ailing and was performing onstage after a long time. He looked feeble and needed his son Shriniwas’ assistance to walk. His voice though was unchanged, and wove that same special magic.
Even today, when I listen to his music, I am filled with the same tranquillity and wonder I felt as a 7 year old hearing him for the first time.