Muzamil Jaleel : Sat Sep 07 2013,

The plan to oppose Zubin Mehta‘s concert with another concert in Srinagar is significant. It is a moment of departure in Kashmir.
It isn’t the fact of the opposition to Zubin Mehta’s concert in Srinagar — organised by the German embassy with active support of the government — but the narrative of the Kashmiri opposition that has bewildered people outside Kashmir. If angry calls for disruption and bans had determined the Kashmiri response to this grand concert or the disapproval was laced with theological debates on music, it would have fit into the black and white of the standard Kashmir narrative that has been consistently sold to obfuscate the truth. This is exactly why the picture of Kashmir’s so-called rage boy instantly trended across the world. He had a long beard, an angry face and his picture was taken when he was shouting. This fit the bill and superimposed an image of Kashmir that helps avoid a debate on the real political issue confronting its people.

Thus, when a music programme to represent the haqeeqat (reality) of Kashmir was planned to confront not the music of a noted maestro, but the problematic political message it sends and the false image about the ground reality in Kashmir it transmits, it was a first. For the first time, the real reason for the opposition isn’t easily sidestepped.

Why is there opposition to Zubin Mehta’s concert? The German ambassador Michael Steiner has insisted that this event is “apolitical”, it’s a “concert for the people of Kashmir” and a “wonderful cultural tribute to Kashmir and its warm hearted and hospitable people”. Through this concert, he says, “we want to reach the hearts of Kashmiris with a message of hope and encouragement”.

How is this concert apolitical? A foreign government plans a music show in a highly fortified garden where several thousand soldiers encircle it, disallowing any normal movement of the residents, and invites a select gathering from among what Jean Paul Sartre calls the white-washed natives. These won’t be ordinary Kashmiris who had lined up to get a ticket for the concert because they love music, but people privileged enough to travel anywhere in the world to watch a Zubin Mehta concert. How is it a concert for the people of Kashmir when it is not open to the “warm hearted and hospitable” people of Kashmir? What is the message of hope and encouragement in it for the Kashmiri people?

There is no doubt that this concert has a strong political message and the government is consciously supporting it. It isn’t love for music but the hope that this international event will help to camouflage the truth that all is not still well in Kashmir. While the venue — the Shalimar garden — is kept out of bounds for ordinary Kashmiris, who are angry and helpless with the neverending ordeal of life in a conflict zone, the select audience would be disciplined as per the script. This would perfectly showcase peace.

There would have been no opposition to this concert if it were touted purely as an entertainment show with Kashmir as its backdrop, for a select audience. If a similar concert were organised in Mumbai, for instance, would there be references to peace, hope or encouragement for the people of Mumbai? What was the need to do so in case of Srinagar? The narrative behind the concert in Srinagar has been political from the very beginning. When Steiner came to talk about the concert with civil society members in Kashmir, the Congress’s J&K chief Saifuddin Soz was actively involved in it.

The government-in-love-with-music story, too, is false. The history and tradition of music in Kashmir is rich and the government’s role in encouraging and helping music and musicians has been abysmal. Kashmir’s proud music form is the “sufiyana mousiqi”, where five to ten musicians sing the sufi kalam to the strains of the saz-e-Kashmir, Kashmir’s own version of the santoor. A few voices still keep this tradition alive, but it is facing a real threat of extinction.

Of the 180 melodies referred to in ancient texts, 130 have already been lost, and saz-e-Kashmir, the instrument, is going silent too. Only through the efforts of Kashmir’s noted musicologist and only contemporary music theorist, Ustad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, did we manage to preserve 42 lost melodies of sufiyana — work he did without any official support or funding. Now, the saz-e-Kashmir is on the verge of extinction due to a lack of players. Over the years, the J&K government’s academy of culture and art has become a body that organises entertainment for politicians and bureaucrats rather than one that supports musicians and artists to preserve and revive Kashmir’s dying music forms.

Music in Kashmir has always represented its larger story and the struggles of its people. The folk music is, in fact, a repository of memory. That is why, even after 450 years, the songs of Habba Khatoon have kept the loss, pain and yearning of the wronged queen of Kashmir alive. Habba’s husband and the last king of Kashmir, Yousuf Shah Chak, was sent on a forced exile by Mughals before they took over Kashmir.

This is why the opposition to the political message sent out by the Zubin Mehta’s concert isn’t unusual. This time, the opposition has come through a parallel music programme and if the government allows this type of opposition, it may help the larger debate. The fear is that the way peaceful protests earlier were dubbed as agitation terrorism and crushed, this parallel music programme may not be allowed. That would be unfortunate.

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