Renowned,much-rewarded and a Padma Vibhushan,Zubin Mehta has talked of dreaming to perform in Kashmir. However,since German Ambassador Michael Steiner announced a concert by him on September 7 in Srinagars Shalimar Gardens,the Valley has only been hearing voices opposed to it.
Protests from separatists have ranged from the programme legitimising the occupation of the state (by Hurriyat Conference hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani) and it being a waste of money (moderate Hurriyat face Mirwaiz Umar Farooq) to it giving a wrong view of the Valley being prosperous (Grand Mufti Bashir-ud-din).
If the mainstream politicians have a view on what was billed as the biggest such show in Kashmir,gathering around 1,500 people,they have kept quiet. Even the incorrigible tweeter Omar Abdullah.
The fact is that a number of people,especially those in tourism sector,see the event as a great opportunity to showcase Kashmirs beauty globally as well as to send a message that peace is back on the rails. Some local musicians who have seen their art muffled in the miltancy years are also telling separatists to reconsider their stand.
The Mirwaiz believes the money spent on the concert can be better utilised in health and education sectors. While that logic is as specious as it comes,in adding the weight of his voice to the opposition,Grand Mufti Bashir-u-din appears to have confused the nature of this classical concert. Some leaders are visualising a music show with girls dancing as Mehta plays instruments. Incidentally the same Grand Mufti was recently in the news for issuing a fatwa against music terming it un-Islamic and later being caught watching a musical programme.
The concert is not the first to be held in Kashmir. In 2008 Pakistani band Junoons performance had been a huge hit. A year later Terra Naomi had performed,even singing some Kashmiri couplets. Musicians from Turkey,Syria and other parts of the world also have been holding programmes sponsored by the J&K Cultural Academy.
That brings us to Geelanis protest. What makes the Mehta show different is the German involvement. Separatist leaders believe this will have far-reaching consequences as in the past Germany,as head of the European Union,had issued statements on Kashmirs human rights violations. Germany incidentally has initiated some programmes in Kashmir University now.
A cynical view is that the protests are just a means for separatist groups to remain in the news,and what better way than hitching your wagon to a global celebrity such as Mehta.
Considering that the audience for the concert would be mostly VIPs and that Beethoven or Tchaikovsky does not have a mass following,they can gamble on their protests not backfiring too hard.
Ehsan is a principal correspondent based in Srinagar email@example.com