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Features |  28 Nov 2008 14:31 |  By RnMTeam

Panditji and I - Chaitanya Kunte

MUMBAI: When Panditji was still recovering, I went to accompany him for his Riyaz this was the first time that Panditji was singing at his home after an operation in 1999.

We knew Panditji was not in the best of his health, but at the same time we were surprised to see the aura and the inner power he displayed. After getting the tanpura tuned, his four disciples, Bharat Kamat on the tabla and I on the harmonium looked at Panditji eagerly.

He muttered, "Swar Lawa" (Sing the bass note of Shadja). The four disciples soon started singing Shadja and soon Panditji started his vocals. For a moment, we all felt like the entire room was filled with a bright light. The powerful voice vibrated in a way that we felt the walls were shaking! That day, he had sung raag Joag and bhajan 'Teertha Vitthal' for over an hour. We realised, the surgery had not affected Panditji's singing at all – in fact, I feel, nothing could affect him because of the sheer willpower he possesses.

My next encounter with Panditji was when I got an opportunity to accompany him in a concert on February 17, 2001 a day I'll never forget!

I used to observe senior harmonium players such as Pt Tulsidas Borkar and his disciple Sudheer Nayak and my Guruji Dr Arawind Thatte as Pandit Ji's harmonium accompanists. But I never dreamt I would share stage with Panditji because I felt I was still a novice. On the same day, while I was accompanying Pt Arun Kashalkar for a private concert, I received a message scribbled on a chit, it read 'Reach pavilion at New English School, Raman Baug – you have to accompany Pt Bhimsen Joshi. Reach ASAP, Pt Shivkumar Sharma will finish his session in 30 minutes and then Panditji will be on the stage'. I couldn't believe my eyes! I was overwhelmed. I showed it to Pt Kashalkar and he said, "You have got a great opportunity." Just so that I didn't miss my performance with Panditji,  Pt Kashalkar concluded his ongoing concert.

I rushed towards the spectator area. When I entered the green room, Panditji was sitting with Bharat Kamat (Tabla) and son Shrinivas. After tuning the tanpuras, Panditji sang a few notes of Raag Marubihag and asked me to play something on the harmonium. I started playing Raag Marubihag with all my concentration and courage. After listening to me for about ten minutes, Panditji gave me a satisfied look so I too felt relieved. The announcements were over, and now it was performance time.

After we settled on the stage, Panditji started singing raag Malkauns and not Marubihag which he had sung in the green room! Nevertheless, I followed his vocals ditto. Realising the gaffe, Panditji gave me a mischievous and appreciative look! After Malkauns, he sang Raag Bahar and finished the concert with Bhairavi.

After the concert, it was as if I was in some kind of a trance with Panditji's sonorous voice lingered in my ears for days. This was the first time I had accompanied a singer of such high stature in a concert. Later I came to know that it was Bharat Kamat (Tabla) who recommended my name to Panditji, for which I am forever indebted.

I accompanied Pt Bhimsen Joshi for the second time at 'Sharadotsav'  a music festival in Baramati in the memory of NCP leader Sharad Pawar's mother Sharada Pawar. Panditji was requested to inaugurate this festival with a performance – he was not well at the time. Nevertheless, he accepted the invitation and said that he would sing only for 10 minutes. But I was about to witness something surprising on stage, Panditji sang Raag Yaman (Madhyalay bandish 'Awagun Na Kijiye Gunisang' and Drut bandish 'Kanha Bajaye Aaj Muraliya') for 45 minutes! This was followed by his favourite Bhajan,  'Teertha Vitthal' for 20 minutes. It was inspiring to watch Panditji because physically he was not even in a state to walk or sit upright. On several occasions, I was astonished to see his inner power and vigour which surpassed everything that came in the way “Laksh Laksha Pranaam