Why is it that international bands give Delhi a wide berth?

Delhi was never known to attract international music bands for some reason. Perhaps the heavy metal band, Metallica, would not have been in the city on October 28 but for Formula 1. It was indeed sad that one of the country's top event management groups postponed (and eventually cancelled) the show that evening with some very unkind words to the audience “ghar jao abhi…show kal hoga char bajey… abhi sab ghar jao...” (Go home…the show will happen at four tomorrow… now everyone go home). Not a word of apology to the fans, many who had travelled from distant places and gathered at Leisure Valley, Gurgaon, to watch a band which had never visited the country before. The cancellation left a community of die-hard fans heart-broken. Many may have thought that after the Bryan Adams concert in February was cancelled, lessons would have been learnt.

Always elsewhere

We hear about different rock bands and musicians visiting other Indian cities. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin performed at a small pub, “Slip Disc” in Mumbai in 1972. Roger Waters of Pink Floyd visited Bengaluru in 2002 and then Mumbai in 2005. Rolling Stones played at Bengaluru in 2003. Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits visited Mumbai and Bengaluru in 2005. Guitar maestro, Joe Satriani visited Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata in 2005. Deep Purple performed in Bengaluru in 2006. Scorpions visited Mumbai and Shillong in 2007. Iron Maiden visited Bengaluru in 2007 and Mumbai in 2008. Mr. Big visited Shillong and Bengaluru in 2009.

One wonders when was the last time a famous rock and roll band performed in Delhi? One concert that may perhaps come to the mind of many who have stayed in Delhi for a very long time is the Amnesty Human Rights Concert in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi in 1988. Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Tracy Chapman among others performed in this concert which was part of a world tour to create awareness about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and about the Amnesty International. Springsteen's performance in the show apparently inspired Indian Sufi and Fusion artist, Rabbi Shergill, a school boy then, to become a singer.

A puzzle

Why is it that most musicians do not prefer to visit Delhi? Is it because of the presence of an unruly crowd or because of a class of important people in the city who claim a right to passes whenever they need to purchase tickets or is it because organisers do not care about safety and security issues in a large gathering in Delhi as long as they make their profits? It is easy to put the blame on an “unruly crowd” but let us take a look at the sequence of events before the Metallica concert was cancelled.

Since 4 o'clock that evening, there were announcements that the crowd was too close to the stage and unless they moved back the music won't start. There was also talk that the crowd at the front had broken the barricades and had moved too close to the stage. One can imagine barricades being broken once a band starts performing. But here is a case, where barricades broke much before the show even started. This certainly raises questions as to what kind of barricades were put up that could not hold back a small section of the crowd even before the show started. It raises many doubts about the steps that the organisers had taken to control a crowd of over 25,000, by some estimates. Interestingly, all this while, there was continuous sale of burgers, coke and even tickets but no signs of fixing any barricade.

At 6.30 p.m. the organisers announced that the show would be held the next day. They cited “technical issues” as the reason for not being able to hold the show and stated that the security of the band and of the fans is paramount for the organisers. Well, whose fault is it if technical problems arise even before a show starts? As could have been expected, the crowd which was present at the venue for almost three hours became quite annoyed with the announcement. There could have easily been a stampede when the crowd began to disperse from the venue.

Impossible promise

Another question that arises is — why did the organisers announce that the show would happen the next day? Certainly, any organiser would have known that at such short notice it would be impossible to obtain permissions for such a big concert on the very next day. However, they told the crowd at 6.30 p.m. and even thereafter that the show would happen the next day. The band's website announced the next day that the show was cancelled. This is not just inefficiency but there was even a clear intent to cheat the fans who had come to watch a band, famous largely behind the popularity of thrash, a sub-genre of “heavy metal”, in the 1980s. Considering the age of the band members, perhaps these fans will never get an opportunity to watch this band live again. The media only reported the alleged “rioting” and “vandalising” by a section of the crowd after the postponement of the show and the arrest of some executives of the event management group instead of uncovering the fraud that the organiser played on fans. I would just hope that no international band of repute ever plans a concert in Delhi only to leave its fans humiliated and in despair for no fault of theirs.

Abir Phukan is an advocate, Supreme Court of India.