Nearly 47 years-ago (April 1961) Gururaja Joshi, the father of Bhimsen Joshi, wrote a longish biographical essay in Kannada for an anthology titled Nadedu Banda Dari, published by Manohara Grantamala in Dharwad. The volume was being published to celebrate the 25 years of the publication house which was, incidentally, run by Bhimsen Joshi's uncle, the playwright G B Joshi or Jadabharata. Manohara Grantamala is among the most respected publishing houses in Karnataka and among the writers they have introduced and supported through their literary careers are Girish Karnad and A K Ramanujan.
Bhimsen Joshi (born 1922 in Ron of Karnataka on the Rathasapthami day) was just about 40-years-old when this essay was written, but had already made a big name for himself in the Hindustani classical music circuit. While we usually read sons writing about their fathers, in this rare tribute, a proud father writes about his accomplished son.
The essay, which is roughly about 7000 words, is a delightful glimpse into the beginnings of Bhimsen's musical journey. The Kannada prose is so magnificent that it even offers a rich poetic experience to the reader. You can sample a small 'jhalak' of it in the section titled 'Conception.' This piece is a testimony to a father's evolution and erudition as much as the son's climb to musical greatness.
Just because it is penned by a father, completely smitten by his son's musical genius, one need not think it is dishonest or hagiographic. In fact, it is critical in parts and honest to the bone. For instance, it does not hesitate to record the pilfering that the young Bhimsen would indulge in. There is also an expression of the father's dilemma about his son taking a second wife (Vatsala), even when the first one (Nanda) is alive with three children. About this, he pleads "helplessness" and says that not always can parents save their children from "calamities" that they bring upon themselves.
The entire text is interesting because of the slow pace of its discovery. The father takes time to make sense of his son's eccentricities. He tries to advise himself patience when the son often leaves home under ambiguous pretexts. There is the anxiety in Gururaja Joshi about people "mistakenly" holding him responsible for his son's running away from home. He claims Bhimsen's "grit and determination" as his own. He also asserts that it is he who was his son's first benefactor and has been there at every single bend of his musical journey.
Gururaja Joshi is also self-conscious about the biographical piece he is writing and says that people should not mistake his indulgence in his son's success. The last paragraph of the essay is very moving. He says: "If I have truly helped Bhimasena in his musical journey; if I truly believe in his music, I hope god will ensure that Bhimasena is by my side when my end comes and as he expands the aalap of the Bhairavi raag I sever my links with this world." One does not know if this wish came true.
Here are a few translated bits from the essay. I readily admit that my lines do not match the excellence of the original, but they strive to give a fair idea of the father's intent. The editing, sub-heads and arrangement of the paragraphs to give a chronological sense is mine. This is translated with kind permission from the publisher: