Clash and concert

Those opposed to the Zubin Mehta concert in Srinagar are, refreshingly, responding with their own music.

Ehsas-e-Kashmir ("a sense of Kashmir") is the name of an ambitious concert to be held in Srinagar on Saturday, where the world-renowned conductor Zubin Mehta will lead a 100-member ensemble of the Bavarian State Orchestra. Hosted by the German embassy with the enthusiastic support of the government of India, it will be telecast live in 50 countries. The concert has been resisted in Kashmir itself not out of intolerance for music or antipathy to Mehta, who has strong ties to Israel but because of what is seen to be its stated and implicit political messaging.

As a concert organised by cooperating governments, it is unacceptable to the separatist strand in the Valley. Given the state's near-complete sway over artistic and creative expression in Kashmir, it is also being seen as merely another performance on the government's terms. Some resent the perception of peace and normality that is being broadcast with this concert, its suggestion that Kashmir is only another scenic part of India that responds to the "universal" balm of music. The grand talk of music and harmony, they feel, empties Kashmir's recent past and ongoing struggle of historical specificity and urgency. What's more, this concert is highly guarded, with 1,500 carefully screened guests and no free rows for the public and high security to keep out "anti-nationals". With that level of filtering, the critics say, Kashmir would only be a mute backdrop. The concert organisers, they argue, cannot claim to say anything meaningful about, or to, the people of Kashmir.

But interestingly, opposition to the concert hasn't led to angry demonstrations or threatened bans. Instead, what is seen as a smug, establishment performance will be opposed by its critics with a concert of their own. On the day of the Zubin Mehta concert, Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir ("the reality of Kashmir") will rival the official concert with its songs of protest and resistance, and present a different narrative. Given how very often cultural events are forcibly prevented and artefacts attacked when one group or the other finds them intolerable, this decision to counter music with music is both remarkable and refreshing. This weekend, at least, the Shalimar gardens will be alive with the sound of music.

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