The master is no more but his sons have ensured that the sweet sounds from the Ganga flow again. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s beloved instrument, which was damaged by Air India handlers while being flown from Ahmedabad to Mumbai last month, has been given a new lease of life by Calcutta’s Sen brothers whose father Hemen Chandra had made the sarod 34 years ago.A delighted Amjad Ali told The Telegraph: “It took around 10 days to repair. I am very happy with its sound. In fact, the sound has become better than before. The concert at Dover Lane Music Conference (on January 25) was the first event at which I performed with the Sarod. I performed for nearly four hours, from 3am to 7am that day.”The maestro has since criss-crossed the country regaling audiences with the sounds emanating from his beloved Ganga.“I performed in Delhi on January 29, in Mumbai on January 30, and Bangalore on January 31. God is great,” he said.The Sarod was damaged on the Air India flight despite being neatly packed in a hard box with several “fragile” stickers pasted on it. The maestro did not check the instrument immediately on landing in Mumbai on the morning of January 14.Later that evening, minutes before a concert in memory of vocalist Pandit C.R Vyas, he was shocked to discover that the sarod had suffered a damaged drum and its skin had torn off.The incident occurred barely two weeks after Hemen Sen died at the age of 87 at his south Calcutta residence on January 2.
The 19-stringed instrument, made of the finest Burma Teak, was the first the ustad had acquired from Hemen & Co.’s tiny Deshapriya Park shop in Calcutta.“Our father wouldn’t let us touch the instruments of any of the maestros,” said elder son Ratan Kumar, who learnt the craft from Hemenbabu along with his younger brother Tapan. “He would just let us watch as he repaired or fine-tuned these instruments.”This time around, the sons had to take on the task of repairing the ustad’s beloved Ganga. “He sent us the sarod the very next day, on January 15, and told us that it would be the one he would play at the Dover Lane music festival on January 25,” said Tapan.At the Hemen & Co. workshop, Ganga was rebuilt step by step, from the bare basics. In nine days, the brothers offered a sarod to the maestro that looked and sounded the same as the original Ganga.
“We built a new drum to be fitted with the headstalk — it had to be a seamless fit — and put on new keys, new skin and new strings on the instrument,” said Ratan.The task was a huge challenge, given the scarcity of the material used for the ustad’s specific design. “Burma Teak is not only expensive, it is quite a rare breed of wood. And then, it has to be seasoned wood, at least four decades old. People often have to wait for six months before a sarod made of this wood could be completed. Fortunately, we managed to acquire both the wood and the goatskin used as the playing face,” said Tapan.Even the goatskin has its specifications — it has to be of an animal that has been sacrificed at the Kalighat temple. The reason? The skin of an older animal wouldn’t do and the temple sacrifices only younger ones.Typically, Amjad Ali’s sarods are 19-stringed instruments, comprising six main strings, two chikari strings and 11 sympathetic strings. He also uses either a chrome or nickel-plated cast steel fingerboard.While the shop puts on Roslau strings from Germany on all their instruments, Khansahab usually makes changes to the strings according to his needs.
The maestro lavished praise on the Sens. “Though Hemenbabu is no more, his two sons Ratan and Tapan are equally competent. There are many sarod makers in Mumbai, Delhi, and Calcutta, but they (the Sens) understand the right kind of sound or swar. Sarod ki atma ko yahi log samajhte hain aur swar hi ishwar hain,” Khansahab told The Telegraph while taking an evening walk.The ustad, whose two sons Amaan and Ayaan are seventh generation sarod players of the Senia-Bangash gharana, said he owns nine instruments, all manufactured by the Sens.“I have named the sarods after different Indian rivers like Ganga, Godavari, Janhavi, Jamuna etc. Like air, which creates sound, water is also one of nature’s elements. Nature is important, and the last day of Dover Lane Music Conference was dedicated to environment,” he said.
Outllok Magazine (July , 2009)
People from New York have come to acquire a sitar from Hemen & Company, because stories of his unrivalled craftsmanship have travelled across the seven seas. Says Sen with justifiable pride: “Many people come from across the world looking for me. Sometimes they come with a map, but they look at the shop and go away. Then they return, confused, because they were expecting something grand, not this little hole in the wall. Then they look at me,” he chuckles, “and think this cannot possibly be the man they are looking for.”
According to Hemen Sen, the quality of a musical instrument depends not just on carefully selecting and fashioning the wood (which is usually toon or teak) and the gourd (which is specially grown for its size and shape), or attaching the strings in a particular way, but also on the maker’s understanding of music. “It’s as much about being able to tune it, for which you need to have a gift for music,” he says. At 13, Hemen came to Calcutta from Kumillah, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), and became the disciple of sitar player Ustad Ali Ahmed Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s uncle. On Ali Ahmed’s suggestion, he started making musical instruments to make a living. Soon, orders came flooding in through Ali Ahmed and his disciples. His first sitar sold for as little as Rs 6; today a piece starts at Rs 15,000 and can go up to Rs 70,000 depending on wood quality, string quality, workmanship and special features the buyer may demand. Sarods, in which he specialises, start at Rs 26,000 and go up to Rs 65,000. Today, he gets regular orders from the Ali Akbar College of Music in California, and says that the recently deceased maestro himself would visit the shop whenever he happened to be in town.
They are my neighbours. I once bought a small string (Hemen was alive then) from thier shop in 2005 for Tukuda when I was in Siliguri, for his Sitar. In 2010 I went to his shop with Anindya and saw that 0ne Sarod is being made for Aman Ali Khan. Only 20% has been completed.However if somebody wants cheaper variety, of course one can buy it from shops near Lalbazar (Calcutta Police Head quarter) for even 5,000-6,000/-
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