On June 22, when Ustad Amjad Ali Khan played Tagore’s immortal Ekla cholo re at Dartington Hall in Devon, he could not have imagined that it might just be the last time he was putting his hands to his “priceless, precious and almost half-a-century-old” sarod.
British Airways misplaced the instrument while the musician was flying back to Delhi on Saturday, and was unable to restore it to him until late on Monday evening.
“The harassment has been immense. After I returned to Delhi, I was made to stay at the airport for close to five hours, figuring out all the paperwork to get the instrument back. After that I was told that the instrument would arrive on the next flight. It has been more than 50 hours since then, and there is no sign of the instrument,” the maestro told The Indian Express over the phone.
British Airways has apologised, and said it was working round-the-clock to retrieve the sarod.
“We are very sorry that this process is taking longer than anticipated, and we fully understand the frustration that this is causing,” the airline said in a statement. “Heathrow Airport’s baggage system in Terminal 5 has experienced a number of problems since Thursday. This has resulted in fewer than expected bags being transported each day. The process of getting the delayed bags onto the next available flight has also been affected.”
This is not the first time that the Ustad has suffered with BA. Almost 17 years ago, BA broke one of his sarods during a transfer, he said. “I also lost three bags which still haven’t come back to me. The airline is not in touch with us, but is issuing statements to the media,” Khan said.
In 2010, Air India damaged a 25-year-old sarod, following which the then civil aviation minister apologised to Khan.
The master said he had never claimed damages. “Even now I am not looking for compensation. I just need the instrument back. There is a lot of work that goes into the craftsmanship of such an intricate instrument. Airlines need to make a conscious effort to handle them with care,” Khan said.
The misplaced sarod was created by the legendary lutemaker Hemendra Chandra Sen, whose craftsmanship made an inconspicuous shop in Kolkata’s Deshapriya Park a revered musical destination for many icons of Indian classical music. Hemenda, as Sen was popularly known, also carved George Harrison’s sitar. He passed away in 2010.
“It takes a fine musician and many days to create a fine instrument. It is hard to replicate that finesse,” Khan said. He said the thought that the sarod might be gone forever was scary, but “ummeed pe duniya kayam hai. I’m hoping that they understand the value of the instrument and figure this out soon”.
While flying for his concerts in July at London’s Wigmore Hall and Charlton Park in Wiltshire, meanwhile, Khan has decided to give BA a miss.