Wound of a scarred sarod - Amjad's beloved instrument damaged during flight

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By SATISH NANDGAONKAR
  • Published 15.01.10
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Mumbai, Jan. 14: The audience was agog. But Ustad Amjad Ali Khan had a shock waiting for them.

He held up his sarod for all to see — the teakwood was cracked and the skin torn off at places.

It had been made by none other than the master instrument-maker, Calcutta’s Hemendra Chandra Sen who died on January 2, he told the fans at the Chembur Fine Arts Society.

And this was what Air India and its luggage handlers had done to it this morning.

Telling the audience he would not be able to perform, the distraught Delhi-based musician returned to his south Mumbai hotel from the concert, held in memory of vocalist Pandit C.R. Vyas.

When The Telegraph caught up with him sometime later, he still sounded aghast at the way his sarod had been treated in his own country — by the national carrier, of all people.

“My instrument is like my heart, and my heart is bleeding,” Khan said.

Had he lodged a formal complaint?

“I have not,” came the soft-spoken answer. “Unlike foreign airlines, Air India is our national carrier. I do hope they take better care of delicate musical instruments in future. I would like to appeal to all airlines in India to ensure they are kind to musical instruments.”

The loss would be particularly painful because the sarod was made by another legend, a man he had known for 40 years and sworn by, and whose death had been to him a personal and professional tragedy.

After the death of 87-year-old Sen, whose nondescript shop near Calcutta’s Deshapriya Park had been a favourite also with Pandit Ravi Shankar, Khan had told this newspaper: “All our (the Khan family’s) sarods were made by Hemenbabu. There are many instrument-makers all over the country… but Hemenbabu had the sixth sense.”

When contacted, Air India spokesperson Jitendra Bhargava said: “It is possible the musical instrument was broken before it was put among the check-in baggage. We have not received any complaint so far.”

Told that Air India had refused to take the blame, Khan said: “Now, what is the use of complaining to such people?”

He said he had performed in Ahmedabad yesterday and had caught the 7.20am flight, IC-614, to Mumbai. At Ahmedabad airport, he had checked the sarod in after carefully packing it.

“When we travel abroad, we usually check our instruments immediately on landing or on reaching the hotel. But I had taken it for granted that in India our instruments would be taken care of. This is the first time such a thing has happened with me in India,” he said.

“I opened the instrument box a few minutes before leaving for the concert and was absolutely shocked to see the sarod so badly damaged. I suspect it was mishandled by the Air India porters despite being marked ‘fragile’.”

Foreign airports have a special counter titled “oversized baggage” to handle delicate and fragile items, he said. “The fragile items, especially musical instruments, are carried carefully by the porters to the special counter where you have to collect them.”

He had planned to play some old compositions and ragas in memory of Vyas tonight.

“The audience was very kind and gave me a standing ovation despite my not being able to perform. I apologised to them.”

He will be playing at the same venue tomorrow.

“I have asked my wife (Subhalakshmi) to rush to Mumbai tomorrow morning with another instrument,” Khan said.

“I have to perform at the Chembur Fine Arts Society tomorrow, followed by another concert on Saturday at the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts). Hopefully, tomorrow I can pay my homage to Panditji (Vyas), who was a great man.”