Airline Mishandled My Sitar, But Refuses to Take Responsibility

We need the airlines to make sure that our instruments are transported safely and not broken.

Updated12 Dec 2019, 11:25 AM IST
My Report
3 min read

Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Video Producer: Aastha Gulati

On 1 November, over a month ago, my sitar and I made a dreaded journey from New Delhi to New York. It was a 15-hour journey. My wife and I were to perform in Hampstead. My sitar was handed over to me in the box I’d checked it in upon arrival.

I usually check the condition of my instrument but unfortunately, after the long journey I had just made, I did not check this time around. My sitar has been broken many times by different airlines – Air France in 2005, Air Berlin in 2017, Jet Airways in 2018, and most recently Air India in 2019 in New York.

The crack in my sitar.
The crack in my sitar.
(Photo Courtesy: Shubhendra Rao) 

There was a huge crack on the tabli, which is the hardest portion of the sitar and cannot break easily unless very badly handled.

Moreover, I pack my sitar in a fibre glass box that is unbreakable as well. I always make sure I put a thick, padded cover on top so as to give my sitar extra protection. And inside, it is again very well cushioned, with extra thick padding. Instead of scanning it, perhaps the sitar was shaken to check the microphone inside, and in the process, fell and broke.

I made several calls to Air India regarding the incident but there was no response. I had to use the offices of the Indian Consul in New York to make a call. On our way back home, Air India officials took photos of my sitar. I took to social media to draw the attention of Air India and the Ministry of Civil Aviation as well. The only contact I’ve had with them was through a tweet by Air India that stated that they’ve accessed the video footage at both airports and the incident did not occur while the instrument was in their possession!

This is the hardest portion of the sitar and cannot break easily unless very badly handled.
This is the hardest portion of the sitar and cannot break easily unless very badly handled.
(Photo Courtesy: Shubhendra Rao) 

A DCGA official was later quoted in the media as saying that the matter is being looked into and a directive to handle instruments with care may follow. As if one directive would change anything. On 9 December, the issue was brought up in the Rajya Sabha as well.

It was shocking to read that there was no damage reported according to their investigation.

“Air India investigated the reported damage and on examination of the CCTV footage, it was observed that the SOP to handle fragile musical instruments was followed by Airport Teams at Delhi and JFK. As per their records, no damage was reported to Baggage Counter on arrival at JFK. (sic)”
MoCA’s Tweet 

For a musician, his or her instrument is an extension of their body. My sitar was made about 15-18 years ago.

It takes a long time to make an instrument for a professional musician. Then, I have to work on the instrument for a year or two or three to make it mine. The sound that the world listens to as ‘my sound’ was silenced by Air India.

Every single artist from across the world has a story to say about airlines and how their
instruments have been manhandled, mishandled or broken. We need accountability. We need the airlines to make sure that our instruments are transported safely and not broken.

(Air India could not be reached for comment.)

(All 'My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)

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Published: 12 Dec 2019, 10:25 AM IST
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