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Zubin Mehta won’t change much

Published Sep 02, 2013 01:26pm


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-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.

Author Image

Amit Baruah is an independent, Delhi-based journalist. He is the author of Dateline Islamabad and reported for The Hindu newspaper from Pakistan. He tweets @abaruah64.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (24) Closed

Tahir A Sep 02, 2013 02:11pm

How would Zubin Mehta appeal to a bloke like me who has been listening to something like "Lagja Galay ke phir yeh haseen raat ho na ho" for at least six decades now? Forget about all the other paraphernalia that you have highlighted. Sep 02, 2013 02:30pm

Let the music flow across the valey to give seperetist a massage that everything has changed except their mindset.

raj Sep 02, 2013 04:00pm

Well if nothing is going to change then why worry let people of srinagar have some life let them feel human why make them guineapig and repeat the ryhem what extremist and pak fundmalist want to tell and listen let them be normal. Thanks Raj

Naveed Khan Sep 02, 2013 04:21pm

I urge the people of Kashmir to benefit from the concert and enjoy the music. They should use the occasion to highlight their plight and cause before the media in a peaceful manner. West has made up its mind that it will not support any Islamic cause irrespective of how genuine that maybe, because a victory for an Islamic cause would be alarming for them. Kashmir's should use every peaceful manner to highlight their cause, for example let there be protest march In Srinagar on the day of concert of 1 million people, not opposing the concert but protesting Indian Military's oppression and atrocities. Let whatever Bavarian media covering the concert see the resolve of Kashmir people. Turn the situation around, utilize the opportunity to protest, highlight your cause and in a peaceful manner.

AbbasToronto Sep 02, 2013 06:49pm

The Human Rights question is whether Mehta's visit enhances them or not. The answer is that a Zionist can certainly not.

India, along with Israel, remains one of the two colonial powers on earth. That is why we should oppose this zionist's visit. How about replacing him with some other German conductor with better Human Rights credentials?

Rashid Sultan Sep 02, 2013 09:23pm

Zubin Mehta sahib is a world class. An exceptional musician & music conductor. Kashmiris and others who attend the event will be a privileged few. Inshallah, his performance will be enjoyed by even those who appear to be against it.

Modi Sep 02, 2013 10:10pm

I fail to understand the purpose of a music concert by Zubin Mehta in Kasmir. It is not Vienna or Berlin, you know! The Kasmiri people don't appreciate or understand western classical music, so why have a concert of international prominence there, if it is not for propaganda purposes by India!

raja hindustani Sep 03, 2013 12:03am

Currently Kashmir is overtaken by radical elements. Few months ago srinagar imam had forced kashmiri teens girls band not to perform in public citing it is as unislamic. The sad part was that nobody in kashmir came out for girls support....not even ruling politicians. Those poor girls had to disband their band due to threat from these radicals. Now the same group is opposing zubin mehta concert in kashmir. Really sad...!!!

Sonal Sep 03, 2013 01:28am

@Tahir A: That is a very touching comment! And it's amazing - I'm sure that song has a fan following in Kashmir, Pakistan and India. Music can unite after all.

Sonal Sep 03, 2013 02:14am

@Naveed Khan:

Unbelievable!!! Who told you that the atrocities on the Kashmiri people are caused by the Indian military?? May Allah bring the true culprits to justice.

Javed Sep 03, 2013 05:06am

@Naveed Khan: The protest rally should also include those who have benefited from recent tourism boom, educated Kashmiri youth who have found world class employment in other parts of India, average families whose incomes have increased over last two decades. If you want to project Kashmir - project both sides of it. Unfortunately, we do not have any positive issues to display from Azad Kashmir.

Shyam Kokku Sep 03, 2013 10:45am

@Naveed Khan: 1 million people? You should thank your stars if 100 people come on to streets in protest. Kashmiris stopped taking advice from Pakistan a few decades back, though the latter keeps it going. Hurriyat is a meaningless and hopeless entity in Srinagar today forget about the remaining Valley. In Leh / Ladakh, they are not even known... in short this concert will be a success and all the Kashmiris will enjoy!!

Sonal Sep 03, 2013 11:36am

Interesting blog! Good to see that the performance is going ahead despite recent Hurriyat opposition.

Minor correction though

vijay Sep 03, 2013 11:50am

@Tahir A: shayad yeh is janam me mulaqat ho na ho! No beetels or philharmonica can beat this song. Spot on Tahir.

sachin Sep 03, 2013 12:06pm

@Naveed Khan: heard of any peaceful protest in Kashmir ? Whatever their problem they are not showing it peacefully. Majority of muslims in Kashmir dont want violence, only few like Gilani inciting violence.

irfan Sep 03, 2013 01:22pm

I am from Kashmir and do not agree with the views expressed in this article. The so called event will serve no purpose when we are still burying our dead, our sisters being raped, our elders humiliated , our houses destroyed and what not. Indian forces have crossed all the limits of brutalities and you want us to listen to music. Please if you cannot raise your voice for the oppressed at least leave them alone. Thank you

Raveesh Varma Sep 03, 2013 05:34pm

What's the program?

Burjor Rustomji Sep 03, 2013 05:42pm

@ Modi: if they do not understand or do appreciate, they will most certainly do so after listening, that is the majic of music, one has to have an open mind to appreciate life.

Satyameva Jayate Sep 03, 2013 05:55pm

Music is the Universal Language. One needs not learn to write or read it. Just close the eyes, open the heart, and let Music do the Magic.

Labad Sep 03, 2013 06:37pm

@Modi: Zubin Mehta is of Indian origin performing in his country of birth. You have a problem with that?

Javed Sep 03, 2013 07:24pm

@AbbasToronto: Go and live in Middle East (not Dubai). You will get a new definition of Zionist from our own people. You will start appreciating India & Israel when you realize what Muslims do to Muslims.

RK Sep 04, 2013 06:34am

@AbbasToronto: U suggest any other, we will invite him.

Observer Sep 04, 2013 07:44am

I find it ironic that no one, Indian or Pakistani, has responded to the anguish laden plea from the one lone Kashmiri, Irfan. I lend my voice to this brave soul and urge him to remain steadfast. Justice will prevail, sooner or later.

Sonal Sep 04, 2013 07:19pm

@Observer: I also found it shameful that so many people disliked his comment. I don't know who to believe anymore - I didn't think the Indian military was committing brutalities in Kashmir.