Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan says he feels he should change his name to “Swar Sarod” after the recent refusal of a visa to travel to the UK — a crisis that even had him contemplating calling up Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The globally-renowned musician spoke of his shock, anguish and deep sense of humiliation on being told at the New Delhi airport by an official of British Airways that he could not travel because of the denial of his visa.
He was grateful for the efforts of the British member of parliament of Indian origin Keith Vaz, which led to a quick resolution of the issue, Khan told IANS.
“This happened at midnight at the airport when I was informed that United Kingdom Border Agency had decided that Amjad Ali Khan cannot travel to the UK. I only had my son Ayaan with me at the time, and no one else to turn to,” he said.
Khan said he called an influential friend, whose name he did not want to disclose, but waited in vain for a return call. The friend called after 10 hours to say that no Indian bureaucrat or minister was available at night. In the meantime, Khan had called Vaz, whose roots are in Goa, and he sorted the matter out with the British Home Office.
Khan recalled an earlier meeting with Prime Minister Modi during which “he told me, ‘Khan Saheb, you can call me at midnight for any assistance you need’. But at the time of a crisis, I did not have his cell number”.
The irony of the visa denial is that Khan has performed for both Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana at the royal palace, and recently his sons, Ayaan and Amaan, held a concert at the St James Palace in London.
Immigration and border security officials need to treat artists differently from criminals and terrorists, felt Khan.
“Music — like the air, water and fire — does not belong to any religion. Our family feels connected to every soul irrespective of their religion and to every note of music in the world. Creative people like artists and musicians should be handled with compassion and love.”
Like film star Shahrukh Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has had problems with airport security officials in the United States too.
On one occasion, he was selected for a rigorous examination at Houston airport. As luck would have it, an Air India manager who saw him was able to vouch for his identity.
Khan is currently teaching music at the Indiana University in Bloomington, the latest in a number of residences at US universities, where his lectures are well received.