Music, Maestro and Jannat-e-Kashmir
Zubin Mehta wanted to play music for the people of Kashmir, but the event turned out to be only for a chosen few. “I promise next time,...
Zubin Mehta wanted to play music for the people of Kashmir, but the event turned out to be only for a chosen few. “I promise next time, let’s do this concert for all Kashmiris, in a stadium,” he said
Kashmir did not turn out to be what the international classical music icon Zubin Mehta had thought. Mehta, 77, and his Bavarian State Opera had flown in from Munich for a 90-minute performance in conflict-ridden Kashmir and expected to mesmerise the audience by “playing for Hindus and Muslims that sit together”.
However, the celebrated conductor did not realise that Kashmir is no Bosnia where he performed in the ruins of the Sarajevo library in 1994. Mehta also did not realise that the politically conscious Kashmiris were not a bunch of Arabs left in awe after he led the Israeli Philharmonic before an all-Arab audience in Nazareth.
For a while, Mehta’s performance of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky did replace the music of gunfire in Kashmir. It was only for a while though.
The armed forces, who enjoy unbridled powers under the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), got trigger-happy and the music of bullets, resulting in the killing of four persons, again returned to hound Kashmiris.
Resultantly, Mehta and his orchestra’s performance in Shalimar, a garden built by Mughal emperors on the banks of Dal Lake struck a false note even though the event was telecast live in 104 countries.
The sound of the falling water from slender silver fountains with the pink stone pavilions in the backdrop of a setting sun over the famed Dal Lake and the view of massive Zabarwan hills on the other side was a perfect setting for the event. The Indian born maestro might have read Salman Rushdie’s ‘Shalimar the Clown’ and been impressed by the beauty of Kashmir as described by Rushdie. The characters of Shalimar the Clown, a Muslim and Booni, a Hindu and their romance might have spurned Mehta to choose the venue of the event.
The elegantly dressed guests started pouring in early evening on September 7 amid three-tier security measures and a shutdown called by prominent Kashmiri separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani. Persian carpets were laid out for the audience of 2000 guests, many of who were policemen dressed uncomfortably in tuxedoes.
The event was hosted by the German embassy in India and German Ambassador Michael Steiner was busy receiving the guests. The German ambassador had had the government repair the garden and brought back its old look.
Nikolaus Bachler, the General Manager of the Opera, said they were expecting to play for the people of Kashmir in the spirit of brotherhood and humanity but blamed the organisers for turning the concert into an exclusive, elitist event for a selected, invited crowd. “Understandably,this became a political issue, which is a pity and against the aim of art,”Bachler said.
Mehta could have chosen any destination to perform but he chose Kashmir for a reason. “I always thought, why not in my country? And where in my country would be more apt than Kashmir? I just want to play for Hindus and Muslims that sit together. That’s all I want to do,” Mehta told the gathering.
He also apologised to the audience saying that coming to Kashmir with the orchestra, and soloists, there were people who they had hurt inadvertently. “But we only want to do good, and I promise next time, let’s do this concert for all Kashmiris, in a stadium,” he said. “We don’t want only a select few.”
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah as usual was too cocky for his own good. “How many people are actually genuine connoisseurs of Western classical music? I have had people ask me for passes and then ask me, ‘What sort of songs does Zubin Mehta sing?’”
The event also sparked a parallel show with some local groups offering ‘Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir’(The truth about Kashmir) against the event of Mehta, which was dubbed as ‘Ehsaas-e-Kashmir’ (The feelings of Kashmir).
The ‘Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir’ event organisers viewed Mehta’s event as a plan to legitimise the Indian rule in the region. One of the organizers of the parallel event, Khurram Parvez said they were not against Mehta’s music, but against it being used as a tool of propaganda. Hameeda Nayeem, chairperson of a civil group Kashmir Center for Social and Development Studies, which was also involved in organizing the parallel concert said: “Why isn’t everyone allowed in the concert? The area is sanitised and the town looks like a war zone, with checking, frisking. What is the point they’re trying to make?”
Mehta was born in Mumbai before moving to Vienna in Austria, at the age 18 to study music. In addition to the Los Angeles and Bavarian State orchestras, he has been associated with the Montreal Symphony and New York Philharmonic. He has innumerable fans world over and his admirers’ list could have got even bigger with Kashmir’s music lovers. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
(The writer is the Editor of ‘Rising Kashmir’)