Volume 28 - Issue 06 :: Mar. 12-25, 2011
from the publishers of THE HINDU

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Music in the veins


Jayaram Kulkarni, afan of Bhimsen Joshi, practising music at his home in Hubli.

KUNDAGOL looks so sleepy that it is hard to believe the music mania of the people of this town, 65 km from Gadag. Sitting in poorly lit shacks, they discuss passionately the music of stalwarts, over sweet tea and a plate of their favourite mandakki.

They surely have a story or two to tell about the pioneer of the Kirana gharana, Abdul Karim Khan, and his disciple Sawai Gandharva, of Gangubai Hangal and Bhimsen Joshi. Kundagol in Karnataka's Dharwad district is the seat of the Kirana gharana in southern India and has nurtured the best of music produced in the country.

Jayaram Kulkarni used to live a few houses away from Sawai Gandharva's. By the time Jayaram was bitten by the music bug, Gangubai and Bhimsen were no longer coming to Kundagol for their lessons. But the music festival to mark the death anniversary of Sawai Gandharva brought them back to the town. “I was very fond of [Mallikarjun] Mansur's and Gangubai's music, but I was crazy about Bhimsen Joshi,” says Jayaram as he leads me to his practice room. The wall is covered with pictures of great musicians, but in whichever direction you turn there is a picture of Bhimsen Joshi. Every inch of the remaining space is filled up with laminated articles on musicians and great gurus, and music reviews.

Jayaram recalls an outstanding review that appeared in The Hindu in 1970 on Bhimsen Joshi's Miya Ki Todi. “Whenever I heard he was performing in and around Kundagol, I would get restless with excitement. I would either get into a truck or cycle to the venue. Once, when he was performing in Savanur, I rented a cycle which was very short, and by the time I reached the venue, my knees were badly chipped. But the joy of listening to him is so unexplainable that one forgot the existence of the world,” he says while paying obeisance before the huge portrait of the musician.

“I want to sing for a few minutes before we carry on with our conversation,” he says and sits down to sing the Todi cheez that Bhimsen has sung. This is Jayaram's everyday routine; the day never begins without invoking the maestro.

“I was a permanent volunteer at Nanasaheb's house in Kundagol during the annual Sawai Gandharva festival. My duty was to supply water and serve food. In 1976, Nanasaheb invited the best artistes of the country – C.R. Vyas, Vasanth Rao Deshpande, Firoze Dastur, Mallikarjun Mansur, Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraj Rajguru, Siddarama Jambaldinni, Gangubai Hangal.”

Exhausted with the day's work, Jayaram was sleeping at home when he heard the reverberating notes of “Changee Nainava” in Bhimsen Joshi's voice. “I got up immediately and ran to Nanasaheb's house. Everyone in the audience had tears in their eyes, he recalls.

“Bhimsen Joshi's father Guracharya Joshi, Nanasaheb, Firoze Dastur and many others were crying too. I have no words to describe the moving rendition. That day I decided to make him my guru though I could never afford to learn from him. I have over 400 cassettes of his and have studied his music very carefully,” says Jayaram, who has fashioned his music after the maestro's. He even for a long time believed that to sing like the maestro one must imitate his body language.

“I went to Pune as soon as I heard of his demise. All along and even on our return journey, my friend and I sang all his bhajans and abhangs. That is my tribute to the extraordinary musician,” Jayaram pauses for a moment before he continues to talk about what Ustad Amir Khan had to say about Bhimsen Joshi's music.

Deepa Ganesh

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