M. A. Baiju

It was in 2014 during his return journey from an exhibition at Canada that he would lose 65 valuable artworks and 7200 dollars due to the negligence of the airline. And this art practitioner’s struggle to retrieve them was set off.

He received no support from the government, competent authorities, academies or collectives towards this. Following this, pinning one’s hopes on the mercy of Lady Justice, he sued the airline at the Consumer Grievances Court, Kozhikode to redeem the artworks so close to his heart. There was going to be no end in sight to the countless times he would be in the corridors of the court for follow up. The hearing got postponed 29 times during this period. However, this non-conformist has not completely given up on hope. He understands that he is waging a war against no small fish.

He’s pitted against Air Canada and Etihad, who have conquered the skies. They estimated Chans’s lost paintings, which he loved more than anything, at a mere 600 dollars. Chans is not in it for money. He wants his paintings back. Chans argues that nobody has the right to put a price to it. Like any other passenger, his ticket from Canada cost him approximately two lakh rupees. He was not travelling on a free pass by the carrier. Such flippant handling of the issue by the carrier has pushed him into a state of constant heart ache.

It is paradoxical that an artist had to wander about from door to door seeking consideration from the authorities to retrieve his artworks in a state like Kerala, which hosts grandiose exhibitions like the Biennale. It only took a fateful journey for an ordinary man to be ripped of his body of work and savings of a lifetime and what keeps him going today is a tiny flicker of hope of recovery. 

Devastating Image of that Day

June 20, 2014 was a devastating day. After spending 48 days in Canada and upon the completion of an International exhibition, Chandrashekharan was heading back to Kozhikode. He had packed 65 paintings in a hard shell box and separately carried all the money that he received from selling his paintings (7200 dollars) and his paints, brushes and laptop in a handbag.

He had tickets for Air Canada and Etihad Airways. The journey was scheduled on 19th from Canada’s Goose Bay airport to Kozhikode via London and Abudabi.

“Boarded Air Canada from Goose Bay airport to St. John’s Airport on June 19. The flight for London departed from there. Unfavourable weather conditions was attributed for the delayed takeoff in Goose Bay. By the time the airline reached St. Johns, the London flight had departed at the right time without waiting for the connected flight. Every day, Air Canada operates several flights from St.Johns to London. However, I was made to travel more than four hours only to be left high and dry in Toronto. From there, I could only travel ahead on the following day. Boarded an Etihad carrier to Kozhikode via Abudabi. Because of Air Canada’s fault, this turned out to be a hellish journey. It is not clear why I was dumped in Toronto in the first place. One suspects the hand of mafias that operates in stolen art.”

Out of 3 luggage lost, two were later recovered at different times. One of which was the hand baggage. All expensive items from the bag including 7200 dollars received from the sale, laptop, iPad etc. were stolen. And the hard-shell luggage bearing the paintings was never recovered.

Three and a half years of single-handed crusade

Ten days had passed without any news of the luggage and I reached out to the Etihad airline authorities. They came back explaining that only one luggage could be located and Air Canada had not handed over any other luggage. Air Canada was also unable to trace back loading information details for that day due to technical issues (scanner malfunction). During the course of efforts to trace, Chans received a letter of apology from Air Canada. The letter claimed that baggage loss was by no fault of their own and blamed Etihad for the loss. Also, Etihad offered to pay compensation to the tune of 600 dollars.  

Though he approached the Government and the Lalit Kala Akademi to take necessary steps to trace the paintings, it did not lead to anything, says the artist who was once an Executive Committee Member of the Lalit Kala Akademi. Till date, the Government has not effectively intervened to trace the lost works. Complaints filed with the Home Ministry and Lalit Kala Akademi did not exact any reaction. The complaint to the Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj also did not fast track things in any way.

Chans believes that had this taken place in a foreign country, authorities would have stepped in thoughtfully. Chans says: “I kept following up with the airline authorities every now and then. But it seemed to have had absolutely no effect. Here, I lost 40 years of my work. Nobody can recreate that. Airline companies should not insist passengers to leave expensive belongings with the luggage. Or else, the companies should assume responsibility for the goods.”

An artist treats one’s own creation like his/her children. Therefore, irrespective of whoever been looking sideways, he will be pursuing the legal route to its hilt. Adv. Srinath Girish, a High Court lawyer, art and literary activist and the author of several books including “Crows Know” is fully aiding Chans in taking the battle forward. The upcoming hearing is scheduled for the 16th of the next month. Chans is waiting for the court to make up its mind before approaching a higher court.

MANGALAM NEWS PAPER | Kerala, India | 03.12.2017