India’s legendary sitar and surbahar maestro Ustad Imrat Khan refuses to accept the prestigious Padma Shri award offered by the Indian government, on grounds that it comes decades too late while his juniors have been awarded the higher Padma award. In a letter to the Indian Consulate in Chicago, his statement reads: “At the last moments of my life at the age of 82 the Government of India has chosen to recognize me with the Padma Shri award.
"While I acknowledge the good intentions behind this move; I have mixed feelings about it without holding any prejudice, to the purpose of this award which comes perhaps many decades late - while my juniors receive the Padma Bhushan.
"I have made great contributions to the form of Indian music and propagating it worldwide, not to forget the form of sitar itself in its evolution and the universalization of my ancestral surbahar. I have been graced with the privilege to perform with the pillars of Indian art and culture, such stalwarts as - Ustad Vilayat Khansahab, Ustad Bismillah Khansahab, Ustad Amedjan Thirakwa Khansahab, Pandit VG Jog and many other greats of my lifetime. Each of them geniuses in their own right held in the highest realms of Indian classical music, were also worthy recipients of the Padma Bhushan or Vi-bhushan awards.
"My body of work and contributions speak for themselves and my students, sons included, will stand the testimony of time to give me the joy of being true to my ideals and roots. I have endeavored to popularize Indian classical music in its purist form and have played the most respected and authentic instruments -- sitar and surbahar on the highest platforms in the world.
"My music has been the center stage of my life and I have put it on the highest pedestal with a lifetime of devotion to its art refusing any form of corruption to its form and essence.
"The strength of my unwavering devotion has given me the opportunity to continue the development of my Gharana to bring forth the finest Sitar and Surbahar players to the current generation. Most importantly my sons are now continuing my legacy and will make telling contributions in the time to come.
"I do not expect at this moment in my life that my devotion and contributions be diminished to a level lower than my followers, students and sons - by age or reputation.
"I have never compromised in my life. Why should I compromise now when this award presented to me is not parallel to my worldwide reputation and contributions in the name of the pure arts and culture of India? This is not a matter of self-aggrandizement but an issue of propriety towards the trust, faith and recognition bestowed on me by the greatest masters of the golden era of India classical music. It is also about cherishing this legacy.”