Everywhere he goes, Zubin Mehta, the globally acclaimed Bombay-born conductor, carries a little chilli box to keep his palate synchronised with memories of the motherland. On September 7, the ‘music director for life’ of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra will create history conducting the Munich-based Bayerische Staatsorchester (Bavarian State Orchestra) in the land of red chillies: Kashmir. For Mehta, 77, performing at the Mughal Gardens in Srinagar by the Dal Lake brings back fond memories of family holidays in the 1970s. But while this marks the fruition of a personal dream, it is very much the Kashmir crisis that impels him. Speaking to Neha Bhatt on the phone from Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he is on a South American tour, he says one shouldn’t underestimate the healing power of music in conflict zones. Excerpts:
You have said before that you would drop everything to perform in Kashmir. Is this a dream coming true?
Yes, it is. I am particularly looking forward to the concert in Kashmir. But I really hope that the situation in the state will be better by the day of the concert, September 7, which is very soon.
What are your personal memories of Kashmir like?
I have been to Kashmir many times, especially with my family, in the ’70s. I went first with my wife (Nancy Kovack) when we explored the area around Srinagar. The next time we went, it was with our children to Amarnath, and that’s a holiday we’ll never forget. It was just heaven on earth. Then we went to Leh, back in 1973, when hardly anyone was going there. Thanks to Mrs Gandhi, we were allowed to travel in a military plane from Chandigarh. So we went over the Himalayas into Leh. There was no hotel there in those days and we stayed as guests of the army. That was also an unforgettable experience. So, yes, I have been wanting to make music there a long time. But I had to take into consideration the continuing crisis there. It breaks my heart. Recently, when Indian military personnel were killed at the LoC, I was so upset. It was so unnecessary.
Is your impending performance in Srinagar a message of peace?
Yes, that’s the only thing we want. We want people to understand how sincere we are in transmitting this message. People can partake and share the beauty of Kashmir. So if both people, Hindus and Muslims, stick together, even symbolically, for an hour-and-a-half, and hear some beautiful music, it could bring some peace to those present and to those who will listen to it on television.
Musicians have, in the past, tried to bring a sense of calm to conflict zones. Do you think music has that power?
Never underestimate the power of music. I don’t know what we can change physically, but spiritually, we can bring some peace into people’s hearts.
Your contemporary Daniel Barenboim has defied the hawks to become a symbol of Israel-Palestine unity through the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Do you see yourself playing that role in Kashmir?
All my life, apart from the thousands of other concerts over 50 years, I have done a certain number of concerts dedicated to peace around the world. It was always frustrating to me that I had never done anything in my own country. So I’m really looking forward to this concert. Let’s just go and make music there.
All my life I have done concerts dedicated to peace. I have been wanting to make music in Kashmir. The crisis there breaks my heart. We hear you will be playing Beethoven and Tchaikovsky at the Concert for Kashmir. What are the pieces you have chosen to play?
We will also be playing a small piece with Kashmiri musicians. We have just had the music for that written for the orchestra, and Kashmiri students will play with it. There will also be a Concerto for Trumpet by Haydn, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, and one movement from the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. There will be great soloists like Andreas Oettl (trumpet) and Julian Rachlin (violin).
In the recent past, cultural events in Kashmir have run into protests. Last year, the literature festival was cancelled. Earlier this year, an all-girl rock band had to be disbanded due to fatwas from hardliners. Are you concerned about performing in a hostile environment, and that the concert could run into trouble?
Well, I’m thinking positively. I will only come with good in mind. We don’t mean to harm anyone.
How many musicians from the Orchestra will travel with you?
There will be about 60 or 70 musicians. We haven’t brought the whole orchestra because of the problem of space.
It has been one of your regrets, hasn’t it, that we don’t have decent western classical concert venues in India?
In Bombay, we have a fine concert hall. I think it is high time we built venues in Delhi and Calcutta, not only for western music, but also Indian music. It doesn’t matter which party is in power, don’t you think the capital of India should have a concert hall? I was in Madras with an orchestra in 2005, on the first anniversary of the tsunami, and we played in a little hall. Madras is so culturally advanced, they deserve a concert hall too.
But is there a growing audience for western classical music in India? There are fears worldwide that orchestras are losing listeners.
I think the audience for western classical music is growing, certainly. But you must understand: I don’t mean to demand these halls just for western music. We need venues for all sorts of music. The private sector is growing so incredibly in India, in every city you have industries for whom building a concert hall would be nothing financially. But they just don’t do it.
Of all the concerts you have held across the world, how challenging is the one in Kashmir going to be?
It has been a great challenge just organising it, a group effort on the part of the Kashmir government, Indian government and the German embassy in India.
"We need concert halls for all kinds of music. The burgeoning private sector in India can easily finance them. But they just don’t do it." Have you tried to perform in Kashmir before?
No. This happened last year, when I was given an award at the German embassy. In my felicitation speech, I said, “What a shame that I have given concerts for peace all over the world but never in Kashmir”. The German ambassador (Michael Steiner) took that up as a challenge and here we are.
Would you say India is throwing up impressive young talent in western classical music?
There are certainly talented instrumentalists coming from India. I see them performing all over the world.
Will the little chilli box you always travel with to spice up your food come with you to India too? You may not need it in Kashmir, though.
Yes, Kashmiri food is very spicy. But the chilli box goes everywhere with me. You never know when I might need it!
Music has the power to elevate . I welcome Zubin to my ancesteral homeland . My best wishes for his concert. Kashmir deserves peace.
I must suggest that people purchase the relevant CD's of the performance, and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, the great record label. It seems, that Deutsche Grammophon has many compositions performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, and I hope they make the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, also very accessible to those who like to purchase their CD's.
To the German ambassador in India, a letter from Kashmir
This letter was faxed from Srinagar on 26 August 2013 to the German embassy in New Delhi and the Bavarian State Opera. List of signatories given at the end.
Ambassador Michael Steiner,
New Delhi, India.
Subject: URGENT Protest Letter to German Embassy on scheduled Zubin Mehta concert in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir on 7 September 2013
On 22 August 2013, a press release was issued by the German Embassy that Zubin Mehta would be conducting an orchestra on 7 September 2013 at Shalimar Bagh, Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir.
The press release quoted you as stating that the concert was for the people of Jammu and Kashmir by way of a cultural tribute. The press release also reads that the concert was intended to give a message of hope and encouragement to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The concert, said to be a part of a “broader engagement” is being organized by the German Embassy and supported by the “competent authorities both at Central as well as at Union State level”. The costs of the concert are covered by “benevolent sponsors mainly from the business world in India and Germany, as well as “Incredible India? and the German Foreign Office”.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir take immense pride in our rich history of resisting oppression. We also have historically cultivated a sublime tradition in, and love for, music. Music – which appeals to the higher truths of love, justice, dignity, and peace; which genuinely acknowledges the long suffering, and yet bravely resisting, Kashmiris; and which is performed for the actual public – is wholeheartedly welcomed. However, legitimizing an occupation via a musical concert is completely unacceptable. Art as propaganda, as abundantly documented, was put to horrific use in Nazi Germany. We are sure you will understand that we cannot welcome anything even remotely analogous in Jammu and Kashmir. Sadly, the occupation will be amply reflected in the demographics of the audience of the proposed concert – the list of “invitees only” is bound to be restricted to the members of the apparatuses of the Occupying State: from perpetrators of crimes, as heinous as murder, rape, and torture, to the local collaborators of the State and perhaps some powerless, vulnerable and compliant few.
The people of Jammu and Kashmir, for whom this concert is purportedly meant, have been subject to an occupation by the Indian State for the last 66 years. These 66 years have exposed the people to various shades and faces of the Indian occupation. But, two features have been consistent. First, State brutality and absolute impunity. The institutional culture of moral, political and juridical impunity has resulted in, by some estimates [as of 2013], enforced and involuntary disappearance of at least 8000 persons besides more than 70,000 killings, countless cases of torture, rape, molestation and disclosures of over 7000 unknown, unmarked, and mass graves. There have been no effective prosecutions of the perpetrators to date. Therefore, absolute impunity.
The second consistent feature of the Indian State has been its constant endeavour to forcibly control the public, regional and international narrative on Jammu and Kashmir. From criminalizing the popular dissent and resistance as “terrorism”, “anti-national”, or “unpopular”, to the more recent obsession with portraying “normalcy” and “peace”, the Indian State seeks to obfuscate the truth and forcibly control the destiny of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Since 1947, the Indian State has sought to use art, sports, cinema and culture to camouflage the real truth about Jammu and Kashmir. The scheduled Zubin Mehta concert is yet another attempt to control the narrative. It is an attempt to portray “normalcy” and “peace” to the international community and other stakeholders.
In this context, it is most unfortunate that the German Embassy should seek to collaborate, perhaps unwittingly, with the Indian State in Kashmir, recognized as an international dispute by the United Nations and the international community, without any sensitivity to the aspirations of the people, or issues faced, or the machinations of the Indian State. It is unfortunate that the German Embassy lends itself to be party to an event that very obviously forms a part of the ongoing Indian attempt to control the manner in which the world views the unresolved dispute of Jammu and Kashmir.
The German Embassy must be sensitive to the fact that the people of Jammu and Kashmir want peace and normalcy, but not as hollow punch lines of State craft, but as real concepts that flow from, and are necessarily linked to ideas of justice, dignity, freedom and political choice.
The German Embassy must take serious issue with the fact that the Indian State seeks to disregard a European Parliament resolution, of July 2008, which urged the Government of India to hold an investigation into the alleged mass/unidentified graves in Kashmir, and called upon the European Commission to offer financial and technical assistance to the Government of India for this purpose. But, at the same time, the Indian State is eager to collaborate on convenient projects, such as a concert in Kashmir.
The international community, including the German Government, must not allow itself to be party to activities that seek to further legitimize the Indian occupation in Jammu and Kashmir. The Nuremberg principles clearly established that to be complicit in crime is to commit crime under international law. There is no place for silence. There is no place for passive collaboration that seeks to be unmindful of the real issues that face a people. An occupation cannot be ignored or conveniently forgotten.
A Zubin Mehta performance in Jammu and Kashmir, though a privilege, cannot be used to further an occupying State?s narrative. Therefore, it is incumbent on the German Embassy to immediately recognize the reality within which this concert is taking place. The German Embassy must issue a statement accepting the disputed nature of Jammu and Kashmir, and recognizing the pain and legitimate political and legal struggle of its people.
1. Dr. Altaf Hussain – Author, Pediatrician
2. Adv. Parvez Imroz – Human Rights Defender, President – Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society
3. Zareef Ahmed Zareef – Poet, Civil Society Activist
4. Mohammad Anwar Ashai – Civil Society Activist, Businessman
5. Abdul Majid Zargar – Columnist, Chartered Accountant
6. Bashir Ahmed Dar – Civil Society Activist, former Secretary, Department of Education
7. Zahid Ghulam Mohammad – Columnist, Author
8. Dr. Javid Iqbal – Columnist, Physician
9. Hilal Mir – Journalist
10. Najeeb Mubarki – Journalist
11. Huma Dar – Academician
12. Mohammad Junaid – Academician
13. Wajahat Ahmed – Academician
14. Zahir-ud-Din – Author and Journalist
15. Abir Bazaz – Academician
16. Arif Ayaz Parrey – Writer
17. Suhail Masoodi – Academician
18. Fayaz Ahmed Dar – Researcher, Civil Society Activist
19. Dr. Mirza Ashraf Beg – Civil Society Activist
20. Samreen Mushtaq – Social Worker
21. Uzaifa Basu – Social Worker
22. Ifrah Mushtaq – Social Worker
23. Imran Majid – Human Rights Defender
24. Salman Bhat – Human Rights Defender
25. Uzma Qureshi – Social Worker
26. Parvaiz Ahmed Matta – Human Rights Defender
27. Khurram Parvez – Human Rights Defender
28. Shakeel Qalandar – Civil Society Activist / Member, Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies
29. Sajad Hussain, Social Activist
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Now days people are fighting each other in borders like Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t know the people why doing like this. But this type of rare announcement gives us pleasure is that someone is trying to make Kashmir as a peaceful place. Very good thinking of Zubin mehta. He is trying his own style to return the peaceful environment. I am so happy by hearing this type because I have experienced the beauty of holy the holy <a href=”http://focuztours.com/destination/Kashmir-Tourism-Places-Packages.html ”> Kashmir Tourism Places </a>.
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