The political scent of Zubin's symphonies

The past week in Kashmir started with opposition to Zubin Mehta concert and ended with creative and artistic expression of agony and courage of the victims of enforced disappearances to commemorate the International Day of Disappeared. The obvious inference is that it wasn’t music that was being opposed but the projection of the event by the organisers and the state as a kind of healing balm and as an evidence of normalcy respectively. That the government and co-opted intellectuals have used everything under the sun to showcase Kashmir’s normalcy is a foregone conclusion. From tourism and pilgrimage to the local picnickers and coffee drinkers at cafes, from footballers, cricketers and singers making it big on the Indian scene to the inclusion of Kashmiri names in list of IAS selectees, every little or big event has become a political tool in the hands of rulers for projecting Kashmir as normal and its people as irrational. 

How much is the government itself committed to the pursuit of art or the promotion of its talented sports and cultural stars? The sports bodies headed by political beings, mainly from the ruling classes, have become dens of corruption. Art and culture with its complete monopolisation and political control, coupled with severe neglect, is in shambles. And if the debate really was about promoting creativity versus stonewalling it, the government wouldn’t have stopped the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons from raising an artistic memorial in memory of their vanished family members about more than a decade ago. 

And, so the fears are not entirely misplaced – that when Zubin Mehta plays his great music at the Mughal garden amid magnificient Chinars, facing a forlorn lake that have been witness to bloodshed, guns, sense of loss, anger and oppression in Kashmir, the men in power would regale not his symphonies but the opportunity of once again showcasing ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’. But where does one draw the line in opposing and boycotting events that are likely to be used as statecraft tools. Does one oppose the tourist inflows? Does one oppose the mushrooming cosy cafes? Does one stop watching Bollywood films at home? Does one stop youth from competing for civil services or vying for better space on the national horizon in whatever field they excel? What exactly would you handpick to oppose? 

The arrogance of power and the designs to whitewash all traces of oppression, crystallising in more anger and complications, are all too evident. But the luxury of irrationality or selectiveness within neither helps in promotion of informed debate, nor in resolution of any kind. Two years ago, the proposed Harud literary festival also ran into rough weather. But there is an underlying difference between the two events. The literary festival like the Zubin Mehta concert was projected by its organizers as an ‘apolitical’ event and it is evident that this bid to de-politicise events stems from a political agenda. But while Zubin’s musical symphonies can never be an expression of a political discourse, literary 

discussions would be essentially political in nature whichever side of the conflict one finds himself or herself, in its endorsement or denial. And, when the emphasis is on denial, de-legitimisation and de-recognition of political literature, its opposition by all means is justified. About a year back, a youth festival was organized on the theme of ‘youth’s role in the future of Jammu and Kashmir’ and while several sub-themes like environment, economy, unemployment and water crisis were knitted into the concept design, conflict and human rights were deliberately excluded because it was feared that they would inspire roadblocks from the State. The fears are not misplaced but how does one de-politicise issues like environment and economy and discuss them in a highly politicized atmosphere without reflecting on the major reasons that perpetuate these issues. It is impossible for talk shops and literary discussions to be isolated from politics, which is not the case with Zubin Mehta concert. His soulfully enriching music, may not be meant for the ordinary mortals of Kashmir who have suffered the pang of miseries for years, but does not have the potential on its own of de-legitimising their concerns without the state using his music to give Kashmir the usual twist. Just like the occasional cup of coffee sipped at the café around the corner. Are we going to oppose that too and wipe off the smiles from our faces because some state-ist nerd goes about writing columns about peace and normalcy for the reason that he can see smiling faces and spot coffee drinkers? 

The situation is too complex, the rulers too stone hearted, deaf and blind; and therefore the onus of giving a direction to the resistance not only against oppression but all those ills that this conflict has bred lies on the shoulders of the people of Kashmir. They need far greater pragmatism and rationality to set the discourse on rails, pull it from the morass of divisive politics on to the road of rationalism and reason. Irrationality and knee jerk responses would only suck them further into misery and road of self destruction like psychological fortification of isolation and the re-glamourising of the gun, which will never lead to resolution but dissipation and devouring of all traces of humanity and sense of reason, with collateral damage from side being demonized and mourned, whereas from the other side defended and celebrated. The choices have to be made. And the APDP protest on Friday at Pratap Park demonstrates that there are still available options other than giving vent to anger through the barrel of the gun and through a sense of isolation. The choices may be limited but people collectively will have to decide whether they want their resistance against oppression to be a fight of irrationality and gun versus irrationality and gun, or be a fight of rationality and creativity against oppression even with the perils that guns on one side may still continue to roar.