May 31, 2020
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Srinagar Diary

What you hear in the Valley is not always what you get to see. There are layers and there are layers...

Srinagar Diary

Devi wears Prada

Attempting to gauge who gained and who did not from Zubin Mehta’s concert for Kashmir is a treacherous exercise to undertake. It is easy to conclude, as Ravi Shastri might, that “music was the ultimate winner”, but what you hear in the Valley is not always what you get to see. There are layers and there are layers. For a moment, it seemed the maestro had emerged the BJP’s darling for a Bharat Ratna till he tripped up on Article 370. It seemed the German ambassador had buried the ‘caviar ghost’ that has haunted his political career with a global TV coup, till the Bavarian orchestra manager said they had been misled about the nature of the “exclusive, elitist, embassy event”.

It seemed Omar Abdullah had showcased his state to the world, till it emerged that Kashmiri folk artistes, whom the chief minister had app­lauded hours earlier, were kept out of the dinner hosted by him. It seemed BMW had got its money’s worth as sponsor with its VIP shuttles, till it was revealed that the local artistes who accompanied the Germans on stage were ferried in a truck carrying their instruments. It seemed the separatists would showcase their ‘fate’ to the world, till the state demonstrated that its writ runs whenever it wants it to.

About the only real winners were the swish set. For a few hours, Shalimar Garden looked like Lodhi Garden as the bold-faced names displayed their wears, from Armani to Zara, with none of the perspiration. ‘Gaste Drehen Gastgeber’ (guests turned hosts), screamed a front-page headline in German in a local English daily on the day of the show. “No problem,” said a Kashmiri friend who runs a hotel on Boulevard Road. “I saw the Bavarian State Orchestra in Vienna 31 years ago.”

Media matters?

Even a weekend visit is sufficient to come to the surmise that the people of Srinagar and the city’s newspapers live in two different worlds and the twain do not meet. On the ground, it sounds as if the aam Kashmiri has heard enough of the raga that has ruined the lives and livelihoods of an entire generation. But each morning they wake up to a breakfast serial in which the wheat is indistinguishable from the chaff, and maybe even injurious to the health of everybody down the food chain.

Wallowing in victimhood, the collective press pack is clearly out of step with the dreams and aspirations of a populace that is caught in a pincer, frustrated with the impasse and is eager to move on. The choice of stories, the phraseology of headlines and the display present a unidimensional, monochromatic view whose purpose appears to go beyond informing the reader. ‘Fear’ is an easy explanation for the stunted coverage, but what if?

When your reporter tweeted some sample headlines on the day of the Ehsaas-e-Kashmir concert, @primeargument responded: “What’s the PR disaster? It’s the English media which is a disaster. Taken for a ride by separatists, apologists and propaganda.”

Spirits of a City

In a city that is so bottled up, it is cruel that there should be so few places to unwind at the end of a long day of hartal. The pitstops on the path to escapist mecca—malls, movie halls, restaurants, bars, brands—that distract the average Indian from their daily misery are conspicuously absent in paradise. The watering holes in the star hotels are way beyond the oars of the average shikara operator wilting under a bad season that began with the hanging of Afzal Guru and has not ended since.

At the antique stores, rust-laden plaques adver­tising Boulevard Wine Stores at Dalgate and the cabarets at Sams Hotel at Gagribal point to a bubblier, more effervescent past. The sight of more women than men at Undress, the bar at Broadway, threatens to smash the stereotype of Srinagar nightlife, but it is not to be. Each silhouette that steps into the light turns out to be a reporter, anchor or presenter of one or the other noisy TV news channels recovering from the lilting strains of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Haydn.

Tailor un-made

At Polo View, Srinagar’s own Savile Row, K. Salama & Sons have draped the who’s who of the Valley and beyond with their bespoke suits since 1842. With a business-card holder that looks more like the telephone direc­tory of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Gulzar Salama still sells his jackets and blazers, suits and caps with enthusiasm.

His son, Amjad Gulzar, 27, an MBA from Manipal, bemoans not being able to go to the Zubin Mehta concert. Polo View is 2.4 km from the state secretariat.

Last week

Bombay Dyeing chief Nusli Wadia and Zubin Mehta were discussing something mundane in the corridors of Taj Vivanta: how many cars would they need to go for the Governor’s party?

Krishna Prasad is the editor-in-chief of Outlook. Follow him @churumuri. E-mail your diarist: krishnaprasad AT

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