January 27, 2020
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Baton And Eggs

This short autobiography by one of the greatest conductors of our times is remarkable for its candour.

Baton And Eggs
Zubin Mehta: The Score Of My Life
By Zubin Mehta
Roli Pages: 216; Rs. 395
This short autobiography by one of the greatest conductors of our times is remarkable for its candour. Zubin Mehta is not squeamish, even while recounting the failure of his first marriage and the extra-marital affairs he had during his second marriage. His second wife, Nancy, remained supportive throughout and Zubin is conscious of the pain and hurt she suffered: "The fact that she did not leave me helped me a lot in dealing with my mistake and the difficulties that followed."

Zubin hails from a traditional middle-class Parsi Zoroastrian family. Despite his grand musical successes abroad and the many awards he has received across the globe, Zubin considers himself an Indian. "I never gave up my Indian passport. Now as ever I feel a sense of belonging to the country I come from." He insisted on a Parsi religious ceremony after his church marriage; and wore the traditional Parsi costume—a dagli—when he conducted the orchestra at the Brabourne stadium in Bombay. He considers himself a true Parsi, and is distressed by the orthodox sections of the community who believe that the Zoroastrian faith can only be passed on to children both of whose parents are Parsi. If this attitude persists, he says, "in a hundred years the Parsis will be extinct. " Like a true Parsi, Zubin is fond of good food and other good things in life.

The autobiography has its lighter moments. For instance, just before a concert he was conducting, a musician in his orchestra tried to pass him a message. Zubin ignored it—only to discover later that the message was, "Your fly is open." I was once in a similar predicament in the Supreme Court—busy arguing, I unheedingly brushed away the warning note that my junior sent me, mistaking it for a legal submission.

A liberal democrat, he has raised his voice "with my music against the Vietnam War, and against the dictatorship in Greece, with my solidarity with the people of Bosnia." As he explains: "an artist cannot withdraw himself into a protected space in which he can devote himself exclusively to his art... I cannot just say ‘vissi d’arte, vissi d’amori—I live for art, I live for love’."

Although Israel occupies a very important place in Zubin’s life, he does not agree with everything in Israel. He put up a valiant fight to lift the ban on performing Wagner and Richard Strauss in Israel, where the two are perceived as the favourite composers of the Nazis and who shared the same ideology. But he failed to swing popular opinion, becoming for a while quite unpopular with both the Israeli establishment and Israelis. "Perhaps I really lacked sensitivity," Zubin candidly acknowledges, although not without a tinge of sadness.

The driving force behind Zubin is his belief that "people should try to talk to each other instead of shooting at each other". He says that if he "can stop people from being enemies even for two hours, or if I can at least help them to forget their hostility then I feel I have already achieved something". Quite a laudable aim indeed. I am proud of Zubin Mehta, both as an Indian and as a Parsi Zoroastrian.

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