The passing away of Indian classical music legend Girija Devi, made two ladies from Delhi and Noida, rush to Banaras. All through this journey they were reminiscing about out their life spent in close proximity to Appaji, as Girija Devi was known to them. She was their teacher, and as they both put it, their mother too.

Sunanda Sharma and Malini Awasthi, are two of Girija Devi’s, not only favourite students, but also famous ones. The passing away of Girija Devi has left the weight of carrying her immense musical legacy in future on their shoulders.

Both Sunanda and Malini, were spotted by Girija Devi herself during their individual performances, before they were taken under her wings.

Sunanda Sharma, started learning from Girija Devi in 1991 and continued till 2000. She lived with Girija Devi as part of the family in Banaras. Says Sunanda, “We all know about her genius as an artist. He fans loved her. But as her student, I not only learned my music from her but was privileged to know her as a person as well. She took on herself a lot of pain and difficulties, but her love and service to the music never diminished. I have known a number of times when she was physically unwell, but the moment she was on stage in front of her audience she would miraculously transform. It seemed nothing less than divine intervention.”

Another of Girija Devi’s love, other than, music was food. Says Sunanda, “She was very fond of cooking. She also appreciated good food, though her favorite was the traditional Banaras dish of Chuda matar. Often during our travels together if she tasted something good, she would enquire about the recipe. Then when back home she was sure to try that recipe in the kitchen. Then she would lovingly serve that food to us as a mother would do.” She adds, “One learned so much just by being in her company. The way she conducted herself, the discipline in her life when it came to music and the way she valued her guests”

Sunanda mentions Dadra, “Ganga reti pe bangla chhava de more raja” as one of her favorite Girija Devi renditions, which Sunanda herself sings on stage.

Malini Awasthi also has a memory attached to her Appaji which relates to food. “A decade ago after Appaji went through a heart bypass surgery, I went to Kolkatta to meet her. When I reached her home, she was resting on bed. I had been there for barely a few minutes when she started getting concerned about my lunch. Post lunch she instructed that I be given Litchi Sandesh, a specialised sweet she loved, which had been kept in the refrigerator. I tasted it and it was divine. Then I was told that Appaji had herself peeled the Litchis, removing the seeds and filling it up with Sandesh. She did all this as she knew I loved it. This is not what a teacher does for her student, this is something only a mother can do for her daughter. That is how she loved me and that is the relation we had.”

She adds further, “Appaji, was the city of Banaras and music personified. She loved life and all good things attached to it. Besides music at times we would spend hours discussing about saris and the emotion of love.” Her favourite Girija Devi rendition is a bhairavi “nahak laye gavanava.”

Rasoolan Bai, Sidheshwari Devi, Begam Akhtar, Shobha Gurtu and then Girija Devi. The line of these great thumri singers effectively ends with Girija Devi. Besides Thumri, Dadra, Chaiti, Jhoola and Kajri, she was one of the last exponent of Tappa, who could sing this difficult form with ease and dexterity.

Girija Devi shared a special relation with her audience as well. Says Akhilesh Pandey, a fan, “I loved the attitude she brought to the stage. It was so full of life, just like life in Banaras. Her singing was much beyond the grammar of classical music. It was pure emotions and that is why we as listeners loved her.”

She addressed her audience, before or during a live performance, in an informal, witty and loving way. Often living the audience in splits with her Benarasi sense of humour.

In the last few years, Delhi Government’s annual Thumri festival was had become synonymous with Girija Devi. Many came to the festival just to listen to her and she, despite her age and frail health, made it a point to be at the festival. For her thumri was much more than just technical and rag based singing.

In all her concerts she made it a point to let the audience know that the bhav paksh or emotional side of the singing is most important. Then she would proceed to beautifully bring out the emotions of each word she sang. Such was her loving relation with the audience that the audience would often request her with particular thumris or bandish, and she would happily agree to sing. Even if she refused, she would do it with a tinge of humour.

In one of her last performances in Delhi, during Thumri festival, she sang, “asha doobi jaye, shyam na ab tak aye”. She further sang, “Jab tak sansa tab tak asha, in saanso ka kya bharosa, kab aye kab jaye,” to thunderous applause.