From pretending their instruments are people, to carrying a spare for an emergency, musicians take extra care of their instruments in transit

Amjad Ali Khan’s sarod, celebrated globally for the past 45 years for its vintage poise and harmonic intensity, was in the news recently for a different reason though. It was lost on its journey from London to Delhi on a British Airways flight, on which the ace musician was returning after a concert in Denver. A distressful 72-hour wait and a frantic search later, his loved one was traced and handed over to him. And a jubilant Khan tweeted “epic reunion”. 

Khan isn’t the first musician to experience this. Well-known Carnatic instrumentalists talk about the difficulties and challenges of travelling within the country and abroad carrying their prized possessions.

Jayanthi Kumaresh, Veena

It’s most unnerving every time you wait for your instrument baggage to arrive. I have faced many anxious moments when my veena did not reach the destination or the fibre glass box, in which it is kept, is broken. Sometimes the box was intact but the veena was damaged. It is not like losing any other baggage, which can be replaced or compensated for. These instruments are made according to individual specifications and performance style. I think the Government should help us by issuing a card or a certificate that instructs airlines to take extra care of instruments. Thankfully, during air travels, I am now able to carry the veena as hand luggage. My guru Padmavathy has made the instrument shorter with removable decorative parts. Yet, it’s not easy to find a safe place for it inside a crowded aircraft. And when travelling by trains, I book a separate berth for veena.

U. Shrinivas, Mandolin

It’s painful even to think about a momentary separation. Losing it, or the instrument getting damaged, amounts to cancellation of a concert. It cannot be bought off the shelf. It is designed to reflect our distinct creativity. So I never take a risk and always book a seat next to me for the mandolin on a flight. During train journeys it occupies a separate berth.

T.N. Krishnan, Violin

For the past 80 years, my violin has been my precious co-traveller. I always carry it in my hand, whichever mode of transport I take. I prefer to personally take care of the violin during journeys. If I have to part with it for a few minutes, I ensure I hand it over to one of my family members who travels with me. A few years ago, during a trip abroad, the airline officials refused me permission to take the violin inside the aircraft. I immediately told them to cancel my ticket. They then relented.

Karaikkudi Mani, Mridangam

I always carry two sets of mridangams. Also, I reach the destination at least four days ahead for an overseas concert. So, if there is a delay in the arrival of the baggage, the performance is not affected. Invariably, I pay for excess baggage because each mridangam weighs about 13 kg. And when I travel to Australia, my mridangams have to undergo a gamma test as the instrument contains raw leather which is not allowed there without fumigation. For the test, which costs Rs. 8,000 for each mridangam, I send the instrument to Mumbai much ahead of my travel. As cultural ambassadors we need some privileges when travelling with the instruments.

Vikku Vinyakaram, Ghatam

My ghatams, which are made-to-order by an artisan in Manamadurai, have often arrived at the baggage carousel with cracks or in pieces. There’s no point complaining because airline officials feel it’s hard for a clay pot to travel long distances in one piece. But I really wish more care could be taken. It’s traumatic for a musician to see his instrument broken, especially before a concert. I carry a special adhesive, sticker tape and a rope to put together the pieces if the ghatam is damaged. Once at a performance in Germany, I played with one half of the ghatam since I did not have the time to fix it.