Written by Shrinivas Joshi
It was from my father, the late Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, that I first heard about a boy in Kolkata who used to sing very well. In 1986-87, my father invited him to perform at the Sawai Gandharva festival.
Rashid Khan was relatively unknown at this time and travelled by train. My father used to go to Deccan Gymkhana to get petrol for his car, so he just travelled a little further and picked up Rashid ji at the train station. Rashid ji was in awe of my father and, for years, he used to recount the incident of how Pandit Bhimsen Joshi had come to pick him up at the station.
That first concert of his at Sawai Gandharva was memorable. We were being exposed to this personality for the first time—he was a skinny kid and you didn’t expect the round, rich and booming voice from such a body. Even as he matured, his music remained true to the norms of classical music and he had an artistic sense that was beautiful.
Rashid ji’s impressive voice was his strength but it was his all-around aesthetics that impressed people immediately. He was carrying forward the tradition of his Rampur gharana. When a magazine asked my father if he saw anybody who could carry on his legacy, he mentioned the vocalist from Kolkata and, after the interview was published, Ustad Rashid Khan’s name was known all over in the music scene.
He gained fame among Bollywood fans in 2007, when Jab We Met, in which he performed Aaoge Jab Tum, was released. He came many times to Pune and even performed at our house twice in front of my father as a mark of respect. He was a year older to me and we soon became friends. Sometimes, we used to listen to other musicians and appreciate them.
Apart from the powerful presence as a singer, Rashid ji was a very normal person to talk to. He had several other interests, such as cricket, which he enjoyed watching, and cooking, at which he was very good. He used to prepare non-vegetarian dishes very well. I know that he had struggled in his early days, after he moved from Badayun in UP to the ITC Sangeet Research Academy in Kolkata, where he was learning music from his maternal grand-uncle Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, who was very strict.
I particularly remember how he had invited my father to perform at his housewarming in Kolkata as we were going to be in the city. I had gone to accompany the vocals. In 2022, too, Rashid ji came to the Sawai Gandharva festival. By this time, he was a star but nothing had changed in him.
On Tuesday evening, when I received a WhatsApp message from a common friend from Mumbai that Rashid ji had passed away, my reaction was of sadness and I remembered the moments we had spent together.
(Shrinivas Joshi, the son and disciples Pandit Bhimsem Joshi, is a classical music vocalist and organiser of the Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune)