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Zubin Mehta won’t change much

September 02, 2013

-Photo by Sébastien-Grébille
-Photo by Sébastien-Grébille
Ehsaas-e-Kashmir, which will see well-known composer Zubin Mehta conduct the Bavarian State Orchestra at Shalimar Bagh in Srinagar on September 7, has been billed as an unprecedented event by the German Embassy in India.

Opinion is sharply divided on the wisdom of holding such a concert, with nearly all varieties of Hurriyat opinion in Kashmir adopting a critical position on staging the event.

As a young reporter, arriving in the Kashmir Valley for the first time on December 10, 1989, to report on the kidnapping of Dr. Rubiya Sayeed, daughter of India’s Home Minister, Mufti Sayeed, it took me a while to understand the complexities of the Kashmir issue.

At the time, I knew precious little about the Valley, its people or culture. In a bit, one would grapple with the complexities of the issues involved and understand the sources of dissatisfaction the Kashmiris felt towards Delhi and India.

Often, on returning to Delhi from Kashmir, one would be contacted by diplomats from Western embassies, seeking information on the ground situation there.

Between 1989 and 1995, I would spend many disturbing months in Kashmir, which totally turned me against returning to Kashmir as a tourist.

In the 1990s, Kashmiri leaders, of various hues, would come to Delhi and meet with their contacts in the American, British and other European embassies to lobby for their cause.

This was also a time when the West took a robust position on human rights violations in Kashmir and would often issue statements on specific events.

Gradually, with the West, especially the United States, confronting the realities of Islamist terror on its own soil after the 9/11 attacks, the attitude towards the Kashmiri insurgency would change.

The decision by the Germany Embassy to organise the September 7 concert shows that the West’s attitude has come full circle. For Delhi, the fact that the Germans are keen on such a concert has its own little message.

Delhi would like to project an image of normality in Kashmir and Zubin Mehta’s concert is likely to help in that project.

German ambassador to India Michael Steiner said at a press conference: “This concert is for the people of Kashmir... This is a wonderful cultural tribute to Kashmir and its warm-hearted and hospitable people. Music is a universal language. Music connects. With the magic power of music, crossing geographical, political and cultural borders, we want to reach the hearts of the Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement.”

Mehta said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal that the Srinagar concert was something he was keen on doing.

“It’s a symbolic effort from all of us, to bring Hindus and Muslims together, to have one-and-a-half hours of inner peace and spirituality. That’s more important because we can’t change any physical boundaries, and we can’t convince the powers on both sides. Hopefully it will inspire people...” Mehta said.

Writing about the concert in The Kashmir Times, Anuradha Bhasin Jamwal, presents a nuanced argument:

But where does one draw the line in opposing and boycotting events that are likely to be used as statecraft tools. Does one oppose the tourist inflows? Does one oppose the mushrooming cosy cafes? Does one stop watching Bollywood films at home? Does one stop youth from competing for civil services or vying for better space on the national horizon in whatever field they excel? What exactly would you handpick to oppose?

It is a compelling argument.

If one goes about opposing anything and everything, then life itself would come to a standstill. That’s hardly healthy for a society trying to come out of a long period of trauma.

Vested interests can’t be allowed vetoes on cultural events – inside and outside Kashmir.

Visiting Srinagar a couple of years ago for a friend’s wedding, the changes were obvious. At 1 am in the morning, you could journey across Srinagar without a policeman in sight. It left me wondering whether I was in the same city that I had reported from.

Mehta’s music will not change the ground realities of the dead, disappeared and living in Kashmir – the accumulated tragedy of a 25-year-old-long insurgency and counter-measures.

So, let his show go on.

Equally, those who want to protest against the concert and put up alternatives must be allowed the democratic space to do so.