I first played the harmonium in the sixth or seventh grade. One of our neighbors, who I affectionately addressed as maamaa, was a devotional singer and quite well known and famous in the small villages around Kanpur. He offered to teach me the harmonium when in town (he was usually traveling with his troupe for performances and competitions). And so for those few days a month, he became my first music guru. The only peti I ever played was the one he let me borrow. He is no more, but the love for the peti that he imparted to me, is as strong as ever. My instruction was extremely adhoc, lasted for a very short duration, and mostly consisted of learning to play popular Bollywood melodies, starting with the non-filmi bhajan om jai jagdish hare. There was no written notation, and I learnt to play by the ear.
Somehow the thought of owning a peti never crossed my mind while I lived in India. As I grew older, the electronic keyboard seemed more modern and the practical thing to own. However, in the last few years, as I developed an appreciation for Hindustani classical music, my love for the peti experienced a reawakening. This is of course ironic, because a classical purist would scoff at the harmonium and label it as a western instrument (which it is).
Obtaining a peti in the US is no easy task, though it is much easier now than before. Last month, I made a trip to India and one of the important goals of the trip was to bring back a harmonium. How I was going to do this, I had no idea. But as they say, when there’s a will, etc.
Homework: Since Bombay was going to my take off point from India, I focused on that city. But every Indian city would have a similar shop which true music lovers should be able to point to. I emailed two stores using the email address on their websites: http://www.haribhau.com/ (based in Girgaon) and http://www.haribhauvishwanath.com/ (based in Dadar). I inquired about models available, and the feasibility of bringing them with me on my flight out of India. They both responded to my emails and confirmed that they had harmoniums in stock that I would be able to purchase immediately. Depending on my requirements, the instrument could either be carried in-hand as a cabin baggage or checked-in.
Purchase: I decided to make my purchase from the Girgaon store. Once I reached India, I called them again to confirm availability and store hours.
In Bombay, a day before our outbound flight, Hobbes and I took an Uber to the store. The drop off location was a short walk away, which we were able to navigate easily with the help of Google Maps. In the store, I checked out the various models available. I ended up getting this one. This is a “basic” harmonium and does not have a scale changer or coupler functionality. If you are curious what these terms mean, and whether you need them, check out this excellent guide. The fancier, the more sophisticated models come with lots of functionality, and are very pretty. On my piece, I got the following customizations done. I got it tuned to kaali chaar (which is my natural sam). I had the drones altered to sa, ma, pa, and dha. This model is available in two variations – I got the one with the C-E keys. I was able to pay with a US credit card.
Transportation: For me, one non-negotiable requirement was the ability for the instrument to qualify as a cabin bag. I had a cabin weight allowance of 8 kg per item. While this piece was slightly over that limit, it was the lightest model available that would meet all my needs and could be folded into a suitcase with a handle.
The top lid is detachable and is removed when playing.
The stops and drones.
The enclosure also came equipped with a number lock.
The store put packing material in all four corners to make sure the harmonium wouldn’t unfold.
They then put it in a black cloth bag with a zipper and a cut out for the handle.
At the end of it all, it looked like any other cabin bag. You couldn’t guess that there was a harmonium inside.
It went through airport security scanners at Bombay and Frankfurt just fine, with no questions asked. Once in the aircraft, it easily slid into the overhead compartment.
The only discomfort was carrying it around in the airports. I wish that it had wheels so it could be rolled instead of carried. My carry on suitcase (my second cabin bag) was a tad smaller so I couldn’t fit it in, but if you have an empty carry-on bag which can accommodate it, that would make it much easier to lug around. Hobbes was the perfect gentleman and carried it through all the airports. It arrived home with me, perfectly tuned, and without any blemishes!
P.S. This is the first part of a post I wrote to help anyone who might be wondering how to bring a musical instrument from India to another country. I was in the same situation and couldn’t find any thing on the web that addressed this topic fully. Hoping my post will assure music lovers around the world that this can indeed be done. To be continued.