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Roadblocks break Zubin’s spell over Valley

Nobody was surprised at the sweet magic woven by Zubin Mehta and the 100-member Bavarian State Orchestra in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh on Saturday. It was a burnished autumn afternoon of the kind only seen in the Valley.

delhi Updated: Sep 09, 2013 01:38 IST
Padma Rao Sundarji

Nobody was surprised at the sweet magic woven by Zubin Mehta and the 100-member Bavarian State Orchestra in Srinagar’s Shalimar Bagh on Saturday. It was a burnished autumn afternoon of the kind only seen in the Valley. Tall chinars, silent witnesses to much turbulence in the past, stood sentinel to the strains of Beethoven, Haydn, Tchaikovsky and Strauss.

Doordarshan had excellent camera-work and a largely hitch-free telecast. For many invitees — like this writer — who could not make the live show, the close-ups of musicians in the grip of creative delirium — and those of the audience — made TV the wiser choice. Every second guest was a recognisable face from the social and political circuits of New Delhi, Mumbai and Srinagar. As at Siri Fort, those immune to artistic sublimity yawned, fiddled with cellphones and looked around to see who else was there.

Wide shots of Shalimar Bagh revealed vast and desolate meadows for at least a kilometre around the stage. From the air, the concert looked like the mid-sized picnic of the beau monde that it was. It was perhaps this forlornness and two days of road blocks across Kashmir that prompted the wisest words on stage from Mehta himself: “Music should be for everyone, not for a select few.”

Given that no sensitive soul in the world would demand to perform in a place perceived so unsafe that its own citizens have to be sealed off, the Kashmir concert suggests that current German ambassador Michael Steiner’s choice of venue was far from just an innocuous promise kept to the maestro.

Steiner had won laurels as chief of the UN interim administration in Kosovo and as special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2010-2012. Flushed with those successes, it is but natural for a career diplomat to focus on another ‘crisis zone’ and begin with a ‘soft’ debut like the concert.

But Kashmir is not Kosovo. And in the interim and despite growing restlessness not even Pakistan.

Mediation, facilitation, call it what you will. Berlin’s official position — Kashmir is ‘disputed territory’ — will be a stumbling stone to any fantasies of a peace summit with a three-way shake of hands. Further, New Delhi’s position both on its sovereignty as well as seeking ‘outside’ help has been steadfast and uncompromising, cuts firmly across party lines and courses through public consciousness.

“Let there be no doubt that Jammu & Kashmir is an inalienable part of India,” said minister of state for HRD, Shashi Tharoor, who, as a senior former UN official, knows more about global peacemaking aspirations than anyone else in South Block. “The German ambassador organised a concert in India, on Indian soil and invited many citizens of India to the show.”

(The author is a senior South Asia correspondent for various German media houses)