Usal Chapati

Once Anna had gone to Gulbarga for a musical concert. After the show, the car was on its way back. It was around two o’clock in the dark of night. Anna took a detour from the main road, and we started driving on a narrow mud road. The co-passengers were confused by this sudden change of route. Just then, Anna clarified, “Our Guru Ji lives in this area. As we are passing so nearby, thought of meeting them.”

The village was submerged in darkness and looked deserted as it was well past midnight. The car stopped at a small hut after traveling a few meters on a narrow road. Everyone alighted from the vehicle.

Anna knocked on the dilapidated hut’s worn-out door. A slender older woman opened the door. She adjusted the wick of the lantern to light up the room. A frail older man was sleeping on the cot. His name was Ramanna.

Anna went near Ramanna, made him sit by supporting him, and said, “What’s up? Recognized me? have come after a long time. Nowadays, I don’t get free time” Anna was speaking in Kannada.

Ramanna smiled, showing familiarity. After talking and enquiring about the old couple’s well-being, Anna bowed down and touched Ramanna’s feet. Anna took out a packet containing 20-25 thousand rupees, kept it in Ramanna’s hand, and said goodbye to the old couple.

The accompanying group could not understand the whole matter. Then, Anna narrated the story as they started driving back to the main road.

In my early struggling days, I lived like a helpless orphan at Hotgi railway station, a few km away from this place. I slept in the coaches abandoned stationed at the railway yard. I bathed in the cold waters from the railway taps. There was not a penny in my pocket. I had run away from home to learn music. I did not know any other language other than Kannada. I lived like a beggar.

That time, this Ramanna used to put up his pushcart outside the station. He used to sell Usal and chapatis. (lentil curry and flatbread) I used to loiter there because of the fragrance of the Usal. Slowly, we got acquainted. ‘Son of a school teacher from Gadag. Want to learn singing. I had given a general, rather scanty introduction.

“Want Usal-Chapati?” He used to ask me. Not a penny in my pocket!

Then Ramanna used to say, “You know to sing, right? Sing for me, and then I will give you food. I will not provide you for free.”

“I knew only a few Kannada Bhajan and Abhang… Whatever my mother used to sing. After listening to my two songs, Ramanna used to feed me to my heart’s content.”

“As long as I was there at Hotgi Railway station, Ramanna fed me…But never free of cost.”

Ramanna always encouraged me whenever I used to feel down by saying, “You know to sing well, right? Then why do you worry about your future.”

After bidding goodbye to Ramanna, the vehicle was on its return journey, moving at great speed. All the co-passengers were quiet, and there was still silence in the car. Anna was driving the car with a stoic expression, lost in the thoughts of yesteryears.

That was… Would be Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimesen Joshi, visiting the Ramanna’s humble hut and acknowledging and saluting the Usal Chapati fed by Ramanna!

One of my friends shared this small anecdotal story in Marathi on Whatsapp. Here, I am presenting my translated version. I thought of sharing it with you all as this year marks the centenary birth anniversary of music legend Bharat Ratna Shree Pandit Bhimsen Joshi Ji.

I don’t claim to be an aficionado or connoisseur of music as I hardly understand it. My writing about our musical miracle will be like showing the lamp to the Sun. However, I love Bhimanna’s (That’s what his fans called him) bhajans and Abhangas and listen to them almost everyday. His voice has that magical power to connect you with the divine, and, most importantly, it reverberates and touches hearts across all strata of audiences.

I loved this simple snippet from the little-known facets of Bhimanna’s life. This is what legends are made of…Never forget their humble beginnings and roots while riding high on the wave of success, money, and fame. 🙏

Kalyani S Kakade

02, Ashadha Krishna Paksha, Dwitiya 2079 Rakshasa, Vikrama Samvata Singapore, 16 June 2022 Thursday

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