Sarod maker with sixth sense

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 3.01.10

Hemendra Chandra Sen, who put a nondescript shop near Deshapriya Park on the map of Hindustani classical music, died early on Saturday.

The maker of instruments, especially the sarod and the sitar, had made Hemen & Co the chosen destination for Ustad Alauddin Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and even the late Beatle George Harrison.

Sen, 87, who died after a cardiac arrest at his south Calcutta home, is survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons. Having learned the sitar under the tutelage of Ustad Ayet Ali Khan — brother of Ustad Alauddin Khan — he took an active interest in the mechanics of the sitar and the sarod and soon started making his own instruments.

Over the years, Hemen & Co’s instruments made music from Calcutta to California. Sen was even invited to conduct a workshop on the making of the sarod and the sitar at the Ali Akbar College of Music in California.

“To my father, his work was his religion. He was active till this morning, asking our maid to get some parts ready for him to work on a sarod. He suddenly complained about not feeling well and by the time we called the family physician, he had passed away,” said daughter Rina Banerjee.

Amjad Ali Khan told The Telegraph what Sen meant to the sarod and to the family:

We would call him Hemenbabu. His death is a great loss for the world of sarod, and personally for our family. All our sarods were made by Hemenbabu. It has been an association of nearly 40 years.

There are many instrument-makers all over the county — in Delhi, Maharashtra and Lucknow — but Hemenbabu had the sixth sense. His touch was like that of an Irani hakim. Touching the sarod, he would know what needed to be done when it came to repairs. He gave a different dimension to the tonal quality of a sarod.

Two days ago, Subhalakshmi (Amjad’s wife), Ayaan (son) and his wife Neema had gone to meet Hemenbabu at his shop. Ayaan has a show this evening (Saturday), so he wanted to have Hemenbabu’s blessings and also to introduce his wife to him.

Hearing of Hemenbabu’s death, Amaan (Amjad’s son) and I went to his house this morning to pay our tribute.

We feel happy that we as a family gave him the Hafiz Ali Khan Award. It’s the only award he has ever received. We had invited him to Gwalior, where then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee handed him the award.

I am happy that Hemenbabu’s sons, Tapan and Ratan, have turned out to be accomplished sarod makers. Every sarod player needs a sarod from Hemenbabu. Now that he is no more, I have asked Tapan to make a special sarod for me. I want to see how he makes it. They have said they would make one and send it to me soon.