Music is the message

For the separatists it’s not the message that matters; for them, the medium is the message. That medium is music. Soulful. Elevating. And thus dangerous to the profession of stone-throwing.

Now that the dust has settled, and issues heatedly debated, it’s time for reflection and ask the question: in the end, what did it prove? That there was a clash of cultures? That when two determined men collide with diametrically opposing points of view, there can be no common meeting ground?

I am, of course, talking about Zubin Mehta and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, the first, one of the world’s greatest orchestra conductors, the second, a Kashmiri separatist. Juxtaposing those two names seems like sacrilege: what it shows is that it takes years and years of hard work and a huge amount of talent to be recognised for one’s achievements, while it takes no time at all to achieve notoriety through disruptive activities. That has always been the way of the world.
Geelani and his fellow disruptives (including the so-called Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society) have ascribed political motives to Mehta for staging the concert, while Mehta has been talking about the unifying power of music: “In the end, music will triumph… It began as a dream, as a lifelong ambition to do something in Kashmir, a part of the country that I love so much.” That last bit, about Kashmir being a part of India, is what riled separatists. They also called Mehta a Zionist for being the music director of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. People who can sift fact from convenient fiction will remember that in 1981, Mehta performed a composition by Richard Wagner in Tel Aviv. There was consternation, anger, and then acceptance in Israel: Wagner had been banned there for being anti-Semitic and for being a favourite of the Nazis, so the choice of the piece was to assert, once again, that music crosses all boundaries. When you think about it, how many compositions by German composers could the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra have played in all these years? A large number, that’s for sure, proving once again, if proof were needed, of the supremacy of music.
The separatists have also accused the German government, and particularly the embassy in Delhi, of using the concert to show that things are in a state of normalcy in Kashmir. They have also brought in the European Union as a fellow conspirator since one presumes Germany is the dominant partner in that organisation. The concert has also been criticised for being an elitist affair, and not for the people of Kashmir as it set out to be. Even the CEO of the Bavarian State Orchestra, which performed during the concert and had waived its fee on that understanding, expressed his anger that the event became an embassy function and not a people’s show as they were led to believe.
Would an objective observer doubt the motives of the German ambassador? He must have persuaded his government to go through considerable expense to achieve what must have been seen as a triumph: to showcase a German orchestra, and by getting it to perform in Kashmir where such concerts never take place get it broadcast to over two dozen countries. Did all these 20-plus countries have political motives in carrying the telecast? If so, doesn’t there seem to be some kind of consensus that Kashmir should be in a state of normalcy even if it isn’t?
And if it is not a peaceful state, why? Because the separatists ensure that it is always a battlezone where any attempt to achieve stability is quickly subverted. They are aided and abetted by Pakistan-funded terrorists who strike wherever and whenever they can. As for the audience being elitist, why did that happen? Because the separatists created such an atmosphere of fear that a cultural event became an event to be guarded like a fortress.
The attitude of the Indian media has been ambivalent. Kashmir may be a battlezone and the Indian Army guilty of atrocities, but are we clear that Kashmir is a part of India or are we not? If we are, why don’t we then use the T-word for the separatists? As for Army excesses, that issue needs to be dealt with separately. No armed forces can be allowed to carry out violence on its own people without being called into account.
The motives of those who opposed the concert become clearer if you study their actions of the past few years and see a pattern emerging. The pattern is clear, and it’s even more distributing than the agitation against Mehta’s concert in Srinagar — the event was an obvious target of people eager to grab maximum publicity at every opportunity. This was an international event being broadcast live to over 20 countries, an opportunity too good to miss.
Earlier in 2008, the Pakistani band, Junoon, visited Kashmir. There were protests against them too on the basis that if Pakistan considered Kashmir a disputed territory, how could they send their group there. (Do you see the logic? I don’t.) More recently (in 2011) the Harud Literary Festival was planned in a big way. Protesters using various grounds, none of which were tenable, got the festival cancelled at the last minute. Then there was the all-girls rock band Pragaash, notable because it was the first Kashmiri all-girls band. Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din Ahmad announced a fatwa against it for being un-Islamic. Faced with the possibility of dangerous repercussions, the girls themselves decided to wind up their act.
This would suggest that what the separatists are against is the outside world coming to Kashmir and opening windows into art, music and literature — all the wonderful fruits of civilisation. This underlines exactly what Mehta has been saying all his life — and has lived his life accordingly — that music overcomes man-made barriers and boundaries. So does literature and art. Do you know any terrorist who has read Kafka? Or have a print of Degas on their wall? Or a CD of Beethoven’s 5th? Forget the Westerners. Do they have a volume of their national poet? Seen an exhibition of their greatest painter? Listened to a concert of their leading musician? There may be an odd exception, but he would be an exception, and he would be odd.
For the separatists, then, all this talk of a “political concert” or “the European Union angle on Kashmir” or “a Zionist conspiracy” is just that. Talk. For them, it’s not the message that matters; for them, the medium is the message. That medium is music. Enobbling. Soulful. Elevating. And thus dangerous to the profession of stone-throwing.

The writer is a senior journalist

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