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Saturday, 31 August 2013

The ruse that wasn't - by Shakir Mir

By Shakir Mir

"I am in a gutter engulfed in darkness and stench and they don't even want me to see the sunshine on the street." -   Anonymous

Elsewhere, when Zubin Mehta adjusts his bowtie just minutes before he’s about to swing his baton before a choir, a mere word about the event is significant enough to draw the orchestra enthusiasts in droves. But there’s something unusual about the Kashmir valley where the news announcing the scheduled performance of the 77-year-old celebrated conductor next month has triggered the ripples of discontent.

Mehta’s concert, that will involve conducting with Bravarian State Orchestra for the first time since 2006 in the sprawling Shalimar garden of Srinagar, has raised the hackles among the Valley’s political camp. The notion driving this cynicism is not a new one. The opponents are besotted with the fear that the concert will facilitate the Indian state to publicize normalcy in Kashmir. But such a presumption has a fragile ground to stand on. On the contrary, it might likely pique the attention of international community towards the conflict and the stark realities that lie within. 

Mehta is known to have performed for places awash with the trouble. In 2005, he made a rendition for the Indian Ocean Tsunami victims at Madras Music Academy. His contemporary and close friend, pianist and conductor Daniel Baren­boim has become a beacon of the Israel-Palestine unity. The concert, with all its broader connotations, is therefore certainly going to allude to its troubled present.

The idea to organize the concert in Kashmir arose out of Mehta’s impending desire to perform in the Valley, significantly distant from an “orchestrated plan” to portray the state as normal.

“What a shame that I have given concerts for peace all over the world but never in Kashmir,” Outlook magazine quoted Mehta as having said at his felicitation ceremony organized by the German embassy. It was then, the German ambassador to India, Michael Steiner lobbied with New Delhi to make his wish come true.

The concert is not open to public and is by invitation only. Western classical music is not so popular in the valley, except perhaps among some socialites. So the concert is of no consequence to an average Kashmiri. At the same time, there is a little reason with everybody else to complain if Kashmiris are introduced to this musical genre.

It’s unfortunate that events that are commonplace elsewhere, find opposition from the usual suspects. Be it a student organizing a musical concert in KU for charity, that was cancelled ostensibly because 'music is haraam' or be it a literary festival, scrapped out of the fear that it might portray normalcy. And if at all, the event intervenes with the state’s international dimension, as one of its opponents reportedly said, shouldn't every influx of anything foreign in the valley be suspected of diluting the issue?

The core argument behind the opposition, nonetheless, remains the same gnawing fear about state not being abnormal. There’s even one petition, perhaps trying to be in line with the trend du jour, by “civil society” members requesting the German embassy to call off the event because it was “legitimizing the occupation.” By that token, the "civil society" should start writing petitions against marriage ceremonies in Kashmir since they are generally lavish, festive and sumptuously grand - totally incongruous with the "military occupation" that Kashmir is.

The presumption that Mehta's concert will present the Kashmir as normal stems from an indiscriminate desire to calcify a hardline position on Kashmir up against the "deceitful narrative" of a Hindu state that "occupies" it which is plainly counterproductive because it thwarts the buildup of any common ground that might serve as a precursor to the solution.

A rite during Hajj pilgrimage involves throwing pebbles at a supposed stony embodiment of the Satan. It's despised, cursed and stoned but never would the authorities conceive a plan to dismantle it. Why? What would pilgrims stone, should the structure ever be pulled down? Our "civil society" composed of a catalogue of activists introduced to everybody else as writers, film-makers and sometimes, even historians, have found a similar infatuation with Kashmir issue.

Besides, musical concerts are merely recreational. The anxiety that a certain political maneuver might be lurking behind this event, which is not even remotely a political one, is silly and symptomatic of an intellectual shortcoming plagued with paranoia and a dangerously infantile cynicism. It's desperation that propels this involuntary association of a plainly innocuous event with the conspiracy that entire world would be deceived into believing that Kashmir was normal.

That thousands of lives were ravaged by the conflict is a fact; and a fact moreover, that no amount of musical concerts will upend. It would be prudent if one were to do away with this token opposition.


  1. May your ¤neurons¤ remain fired like this forever, and armed with them, may you set ablaze all those who oppose rationality. With this essay, you have established yourself in the special league.

    Best, AR

  2. SM, you have just entered the top league. May your ¤neurons¤ always stay fired, and with their help, may you set ablaze all that is irrational.

    Best, AR