New book tells maestro Bhimsen Joshi’s story

New book tells maestro Bhimsen Joshi’s story

Bengalurean vocalist Dr Nagaraj Rao Havaldar chronicles the legendary Hindustani vocalist’s life and times.

Nagaraj Rao Havaldar

A new book in English by a Bengaluru musician documents the remarkable life of Pandit Bhimsen Joshi.

Bharat Ratna Pt Bhimsen Joshi, The Voice of the People, is a 308 page hardcover that took Nagaraj Rao Havaldar six years to write.

Havaldar, a well-known Hindustani classical vocalist, tells Metrolife how the book came about.

What made you write this book?

There are several books in Marathi and Kannada on Bhimsen Joshi. The book ‘Bhimsen Joshi: The man and His Music’ by Mohan Nadkarni was the only book in English, as far as I can

recall. Mine is the second book in English. For the record, all the books in Kannada about Bhimsen Joshi are translations from English and Marathi. The first book on him came out in 1984, and his music had changed and mellowed a lot by the time he breathed his last in 2011. All these factors inspired me to write this book.

Who helped you with the research?

My guru Pandit Madhava Gudi, a student of Bhimsen Joshi, helped me with many insights. The book also documents rare interviews with Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Nana Muley, the tabla player who accompanied Joshi, lyricist Piyush Pande, and director Amol Palekar who brought Bhimsen Joshi back to film music after a gap of 20 years. I came across many untold stories. From the youngest in the family to the oldest, I interviewed everyone.

Also, people are usually either aware of the glorious side or the negative side of an artiste. Many miss out on the wonderful human being in between. The story of Bhimsen Joshi, from being a passionate traveller to winning the Bharat Ratna, is documented in this book.

Nagaraj Rao Havaldar’s family with Pt Bhimsen Joshi back in 1998.

When a legend’s story is told, biographers might feel like skipping some unpleasant details. Have you skipped anything?

Well, it is a known fact that Bhimsen Joshi married twice. That is his private life. The book focuses on his musical journey. Also, many books have talked about him being an alcoholic and people just assume an artiste needs some addiction to succeed. The book explains how music in itself is a great intoxicant. The book traces his life, revealing how Bhimsen Joshi, coming from an orthodox Madhwa Brahmin family, fell into these habits. Well, if alcohol could produce great musicians, then all wine tasters would be great singers.

Who is this book for?

Everyone. Apart from 30 to 35 pages which talk about his music, the book is about the successful journey of a great personality. It can be considered an inspirational guide as it traces his struggles and shows how he transformed all adverse situations into opportunities. By taking an unconventional path, he indeed became a role model for the entire world.

What do you like the most about Bhimsen Joshi?

The way he led his life is a guide to many. Along with being a great human, he was also a great teacher and human being. Not once did he let the fame get to his head. His calm behaviour and humble nature made him the legend he was.

Your advice to young biographers?

If the author knows the subject in person, that is the best. Never depend on secondary sources. Also, if you are writing about a musician, I think it is an add-on if you are a musician yourself. It is perfect if you come from the same tradition.

Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, The Voice of the People, by Nagarajarao Havaldar, is published by Sunaada Art Foundation, Bengaluru. The book is priced at Rs 750 and is also available on