The unthinkable has just happened. Bayerisches Staatsorchester, or the Bavarian State Orchestra, has performed at the Shalimar gardens. The Orchestra was founded in 1523, almost a century before Nur-ud-din Mohammad Salim, known by his imperial name Jahangir, got the Mughal gardens made around 1620. It was iconic in a sense.
Since last night both Ali Sagar and Akbar Lone, two of the special attendees who sat in the immediate rows behind their boss Omar Abdullah and Ambassador Steiner of Germany, are strung out. Reliable sources reveal that Sagar had difficulty sleeping at night in Khanyar and kept asking why Zubin Sahib didn’t sing a single song. Akbar Lone, meanwhile, was heard asking if the maestro would be interested in selling his conducting baton (Khabar haz kaeh di yi tuj). Known to conduct the state assembly in a polite fashion, who knows what a yawning Lone had in mind!
So here we had an acclaimed group from Munich, the musicians of which have been conducted by the great Mozart in the past, playing their brass, woodwind and percussion instruments under the mighty Chinars by the Dal. The ingredients were all there: A world-class ensemble. A posh crowd in attendance. Zubin Mehta, the great maestro, himself. And the famed Dal backdrop. Yash Chopra would have given up his entire stake in the Yash Raj Studios to be here.
It seems that the initial hullabaloo over the concert and how it would give out a wrong image of the Kashmir conflict to the world was quickly overshadowed by melody. This was it: Peace, clean and perfumed, like Gul Panag and Dr Farooq –- the dimpled-mademoiselle from Bollywood and the original disco-dancer from Gupkar. What does Geelani, that sour old man who refuses to shut his mouth even in house-arrest, know about the beauty of Beethoven? Pray, what?
Omar, the local emperor, looked classy in his ultramarine Khan dress. Ever since GQ put him on their cover, he has fallen in love with himself. So his hair is now silver-muted and the eyewear is chic. With the silk handkerchief firmly in the upper pocket of his Raghavendra Rathore Nehru jacket, he threw open the show with a soliloquy on ‘new tomorrow’. (There is curfew in large parts of South Kashmir today)
Since no Bombay film is congruous without a villain, so the first set of baddies emerged from among the audiences itself. Most of Omar’s cabinet was caught gaping as if they were brought before a grumpy judge on charges of contempt of the court. Most of the attendees wore an expression that looked like a cross between listlessness and comatose. Whether the list of invitees mistakenly went to the cucumber growers association of J&K remains to be seen?
Oh and there was the dandy crowd from Delhi and Bombay too. They had been airlifted to the valley and included bored rich wives of industrialists in Jacques O sunglasses and second cousins of noted bureaucrats. The top brass of the army and police were also present. It was indeed a sight: Beethoven for the Bourgeoisie, of the Bourgeoisie and by the Bourgeoisie.
May be the highly anticipated peace concert was incomplete without Zubin uncle’s magical revelation, which has become a fashion statement now: I am a Kashmiri. Indeed. So is Rahul Gandhi and Nawaz Sharif. Nehru too was a Kashmiri. SRK too. Heck, everyone is a Kashmiri, even Deve Gowda and Ambassador Steiner. I’m sure Mustafa Kamal, who looked like he was water-boarded at the concert, must expect us to thank Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah for Article 370, which says that only state subjects can own land in Kashmir. Imagine if Mukesh Ambani’s wife, in her super-expensive gown, suddenly decided to be a Kashmiri.
Musicality of the Germans and Zubin’s conducting brilliance apart, there is a reason why so many ordinary Kashmiris voiced their opposition to Beethoven and Wagner in Srinagar. The simple fact is that when the state guns down a few Kashmiris in the afternoon, isn’t it a trifle insensitive for Dr Farooq and the crowd to tap their feet a few hours later? Notes of Haydn and Tchaikovsky in Srinagar cannot cloak the wailing of a mother in Shopian. Can it?
Excuse us for the impertinence of holding a parallel event. It was but a tiny attempt to tell the emperor that he has no clothes on. Give us Zarif Ahmed Zarif and ZGM slouched on grass at the Municipal Park any day over the fake pheran of Bollywood’s dimpled-mademoiselle in Shalimar.
Sameer Bhat is a Kashmir blogger and an associate editor with an international broadsheet.