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Updated: September 18, 2013 15:21 IST

Zubin Mehta and the unequal music

Sadanand Menon
Comment (30)   ·   print   ·   T  T  

The maestro’s performance in Kashmir was more akin to Nero fiddling as Rome burned

There is a delightful story I heard in the mid-1980s from a prominent economist from Chennai who happened to be then India’s executive director-alternate at the World Bank. He said at their previous board meeting, members were asked to consider an extraordinary proposal from the colourful Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The proposal was for a scheme to bring peace to the strife-torn West Asia for which he required some small change amounting to (if I remember right) $500 million.

‘Peace vibration’

En-route to developing and packaging Transcendental Meditation, Mahesh Yogi now claimed to have perfected the mystical art of levitation. He had further calculated that every individual who levitates generates a specific quantum of ‘peace vibration’ or ‘a coherent world consciousness’ around him — which he called the ‘Maharishi Effect’ — having the power to irradiate and envelop everyone in the neighbourhood with peaceful thoughts. So his plan for West Asia was simple and ingenious. Transport 250,000 of his followers (he called them ‘Yogic Flyers’) to Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon and, at a given signal, make them levitate simultaneously. The tidal ‘peace wave’ thus cumulatively generated would be so powerful as to instantaneously flood the region awash in peace, with warring nations melting down emotionally and helplessly falling in love with each other. Needless to say, as ever, the unimaginative and stick-in-the-mud honchos at the World Bank just turned up their collective noses at the proposal and refused to give peace a chance.

I was reminded of this while listening to and reading the surfeit of gurgling ‘peace-prose’ of conductor Zubin Mehta, German ambassador Steiner, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the scores of TV anchors and print-press editors who all seem so collectively determined to make peace at any cost in Kashmir. The single-minded purposefulness of it all reminded one of Albert Camus’s vitriolic jibe at such cultural aggression as “the essential music before the massacre.” It was as if, overnight, some magic formula had been discovered for Kashmir which needed to be delivered at all cost. Maestro Mehta said, “Don’t underestimate the power of inner peace that music brings to people all over the world.” He even chose to speak about “the inner peace that soldiers felt in Sarajevo” when his orchestra played amidst the devastation there.

Can there be any quibble over this? Why, even the musical horn of a passing truck brings peaceful thoughts, not to speak of a 108-piece orchestra. Even a tone-deaf person would admit that the harmonics of music can help soothe frazzled nerves. But I doubt how many musicians would concede that ‘peace’ is their primary business. Music is an agonising quest for unattainable goals that, in fact, leaves the musicians themselves in considerable distress and pain. There is the insightful story of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, founder of the Kirana Gharana. Towards the end of his life, when asked why he — considered the badshah of ‘nishad’ — so resolutely practised the ‘ni’ swar for hours every day, had exclaimed, “Zindagi bhar is nishad ko maanj raha hun, par kambakht haath hi nahin aati” (Have been polishing this nishad all my life, but I’m just not able to get the damn thing).

For many musicians, and for their audiences, music represents this anguish of an intense, honest search, which is what translates into a kind of palpable equanimity, confronted with the risibility of daily life and its myriad conflicts. Otherwise deploying music to manufacture instant peace merely sounds as daffy as Mahesh Yogi’s flying capers. In this case, they also spent a modest Rs.8.5 crore for this one concert. If long-standing conflicts could be resolved that serendipitously with music, the global military-industrial complex would, by now, have gassed out every musician in the world. All these sentimentalists would need to learn that making music, as Edward Said pointed out, is a political act drenched in the ideology and hegemonic postures of the dominant powers of the State, to go against which merely invites repression.

Just imagine; the annual music season in Chennai presents some 3,000 concerts in about 40 days in December-January. There has been no report of any conspicuous drop in gang wars, murders or caste clashes in the region. There is a regular wafting of ‘divine’ music from the Kamala Nehru Park in Delhi. Gang rapes and communal clashes still happen; not to speak of more serious rioting inside Parliament. The Dover Lane music festival in Kolkata has been unable to restrain the Trinamool and the Left cadres from going at each other’s throats. Why, all the years of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv has not yet made a pacifist country out of Israel.

With a heavy heart it needs to be pointed out to the maestro that his performance was more akin to Nero fiddling as Rome burned. Of course, there is no way he could have known that, in the past quarter of a century, the Indian state has turned increasingly assertive against Kashmiri nationalism, dotting the Valley’s landscape with extensive acres of army camps, making the Indian Army the biggest real estate holder in the State. With over 70,000 people killed, over 10,000 people ‘disappeared’ and hundreds of thousands of Pandits displaced, it would be fatuous to imagine the imperious swish of a baton returning comfort to this region. If at all, it only contributed to two weeks of further needless discomfort for people living around Shalimar Gardens, with the security forces occupying their houses and rooftops and subjecting residents to severe search and cordon operations.

Even as the violins and bassoons violas were patronisingly syncopating Beethoven with local instruments like santoor, tumbaknari and rabab, the CRPF thought nothing of punctuating the score with calibrated shots that killed four boys in nearby Shopian. The curfew there is still on. Later it turned out they were just that, local boys. One was reminded of Pablo Neruda, “And the blood of children ran through the streets, without fuss, like children’s blood”. For one high profile editor of the Indian press at least, the only downside in all this was that the Army could not persuade the joyless Kashmiris to keep their bars and night-spots open “to unwind after a long day of hartal.” He obviously was not there long enough to know the difference between a hartal and a military-imposed curfew.

Propagandist kitsch

Of course, Zubin Mehta is no apostle of peace like Mahatma Gandhi. His self-defence was strident and aggressive as he blamed Kashmiris for their troubles. “All these people who scream about Kashmir being an armed camp are in fact responsible for keeping it that way,” he hissed, the C-Major sounding a little off-key. He perhaps did not realise that he himself was performing inside a hermetically sealed army camp that day. What was really saddening was to see music being reduced to such propagandist kitsch. Tendentious work, camouflaged as art, is unable to conceal its own emptiness. Its mushy emotionalism and exaggerated empathy for a confected ‘peace’ can only create an incredulous response. The real work of art during times of conflict is a sign of resistance, not a reinforcing of oppression. How one wishes Kashmiri artists and intellectuals had managed to get to Zubin Mehta before the show and persuaded him to make a simple announcement that he was performing that day for the victimised people of Kashmir. That was all that was needed to balance it out. Like the fiercely independent scientist C.V. Raman did while receiving his Nobel Prize; “I accept this prize on behalf of my oppressed countrymen,” he had barked into the mike.

The ultimate irony in this musical caper will, of course, always be the historic irony of the date. Nothing incendiary was happening in Kashmir at that time and would not have been provoked had this ‘peace concert’ not been invented. But, on September 7, if the great man really needed to prove the efficacy of his genius, he should have diverted the entourage away from Srinagar and headed, instead, for Muzaffarnagar. After all, there too Hindus and Muslims needed to sit next to each other and listen to some equal music.

(The writer is a senior journalist)

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This article is one of most uncharitable piece of "journalism" I have
seen. Mr. Zubin Mehta does not need publicity, neither seeks publicity.
He came to India to help lift the spirit of the people of Kashmir. It is
a poor piece of journalism to ascribe any other motive.

from:  Ebenezer R. Vedamuthu
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 12:03 IST

Peace through Love, Peace through Music! Indeedm Maestro Zubin Mehta has given us both for our salvation. We love you, Zubin.

from:  Dr. Ahmed Makhdoom
Posted on: Sep 19, 2013 at 10:04 IST

To portray that music cannot bring harmony is very naive. Music is eternal. No one in this world is qualified to make such a statement. The author has totally undermined the efforts of the organizers and the Conductor to bring in fresh air in the troubled land, through music.

from:  Ramachandran
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 15:37 IST

Mr Sadanand Menon in this article is word by word and sentence by sentence stabbing his way through the veins of hatred. What is the point in slashing away at a person like Zubin Mehta who is trying to contribute to peace by using the instruments that he knows best - his music? On the other hand, there is not a single, alternate suggestion on how Kashmir could move towards peace.

If there are many takers for this prejudiced article, then very many years will have to pass before there is peace!
Or, must we rest with the unhappy knowledge that in a kingdom of hate
Misery will for ever be King?

from:  Kumar E.
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 15:35 IST

If we were truly a homogenenous, pragnmatic lot, India and Pakistan
would have reconcilled long ago, making Kashmir more beautiful than any
picture-postcard place in the swiss-german-austrian-italian-french Alps.
Instead, Kashmir remains a sensitive warzone, not a place for
musicmakers, least symbolic of all Zubin Mehta.

from:  Rajan Mahadevan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 14:46 IST

In very poor taste and full of witless sarcasm! You don't need to attribute music to accomplish any task be it peace.

I would like to praise jnk govt n German embassy for organizing such a wonderful event. Sometimes, all we need is a little music.

from:  Ajitabh kumar
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 14:21 IST

Commenting everything has become latest hobby for some. what is wrong if Jubin
Mehtas concert performed in Kashmir. if we keep on enduring silence UP also
becomes another Kashmir. it seems India disintegrate soon if this trend follows in a
few years.and this should be checked. a strong administration is necessary,a strong
leader with integrity is essential for united nation.History will not repeat one hopes.
if the centre is weak ,no security at the borders and all are encroaching our land.

from:  kvl shanta
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 14:12 IST

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!
It seems like, nowadays, everything is being witnessed as some sort of conspiracy to eliminate the ultimate freedom that people want, the ultimate right that they possess and the ultimate decisions that they want to make. And to my utter surprise this ideology is encouraged by media of any form, and media persons like you.
'MUSIC', How can that be a political stunt, and if it is then are people forced to attend the concert. now, just by organising a music concert in any place, how profoundly does the sentiments of people gets hurt. I am so flabbergasted!
What is the ultimate freedom that they seek and for what and from what?Is it a freedom from Indian state or from Army (Sheltering them as well as this vary country from terrorists) or is it a freedom to reinstate Islam under sharia law( Keeping in mind the force migration of Kashmiri pandits, that was purely on religious grounds).

from:  RAHUL RAGHUWANSHI
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 14:10 IST

It is difficult for me to understand why the author is lamenting on
music played by Zubin Mehta. Its just music, why can't people just sit
and enjoy the music. Separatist would do anything to disturb harmony.
Jammu and Kashmir is an indisputable Indian territory. Forcing the
natives practicing the original culture of the land out is not the way
for self determination. Let them first learn to live in harmony with
other communities.

from:  Abhishek
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 13:48 IST

Western Classical music is essentially COPY music with no freedom for individual
expression nor deviation from written score to delight the public with spontaneous
inspiration. This type of music will do little to ease the hurt and distress felt by
Kashmiris caught like a rose between two thorns. It was sad to hear that the local musicians who performed with the orchestra were not invited to the dinner set out for the Western classical musicians. Such snobbishness exists only in the classicists who behave like they are above over other musicians as they can COPY any great composer's music exactly as it was written. What Kashmir really needed was a BLUES concert by top Black American artists who themselves had to go through pain of acceptance and integration in their homeland. Young Kashmiris could have been encouraged to come up and sing out what it is that hurts them the most about the present situation. This surely would have helped release pent up emotions and clear away some blues!

from:  angeli alvares
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 13:41 IST

Kashmir's issue is not about law. It's about humanity. Most countries
of the world have areas where separatist movements are active. In
Israel, China, even in Pakistan, there are movements like this. And
everywhere there is a bullheaded ideology - law of the land, a
superimposition of the national identity with its geographical
integrity.
The problem with this is, we consider only rights and duties conferred
upon us by lawmakers. And we forget our duties and rights as a humane
society. Kashmir is ours by law. But is it ours by Kashmiris? We can
never really have Kashmir, without ever having the Kashmiris.
The answer is probably not the iron-fisted rule of the army, but a
socio-economically stable state and better governance. We need to
cater to the general insecurities in the state. If there is stability
in a state, resistance will slowly die out.
And "idiot alert", there is a commentor in this thread who is claiming to have sedition charges applied on The Hindu for this op-ed. There is too much noise going on in India. Everyone holds an opinion,
and most of us, without being aware of the real circumstances of a
situation. Central India is mostly aloof to the pain of Kashmiris. For
them, it is just a state, which belongs to their country by a birth
right. We don't even realize that on a world map, India's share of
Kashmir is actually half of the Kashmir that India claims to own in
its own political maps. Lack of accessibility of these parts,
hardheadedness and lack of common modesty to agree to these
shortcomings of ours prevent us from reaching a conclusion on this
issue. Also, the mentality that a forever 'peripheral' state like
Kashmir is an 'integral' part of India makes it difficult for Kashmir
to belong to anyone. Kashmiris bleed, and we go on with a dogmatic
rant about armed civilians. Those who are living there have no right
to peace?
I think we, in good conscience of a democracy we proclaim, need to
give Kashmiris a right to decide among themselves.

from:  Shashank Garg
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 13:31 IST

Very good piece of article. Except that the article tends to deviate
towards questioning the efficacy of music itself. The counter-argument
can be made on how music can inspire the millions and thus bringing in
the change. But as far as Mehtaji's concert is in question, of course
its substance is dubious.

from:  Mahesh J
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 12:26 IST

>Why, all the years of Zubin Mehta conducting the Israeli >Philharmonic Orchestra in Tel Aviv has not yet made a pacifist >country out of Israel.

Brilliant. Unfortunately, rationalism is an undigestable dish in India.

from:  Mahe
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 12:12 IST

Very well written article but I seem to get a feeling that Mr. Mehta might have expressed his thoughts very facetiously; without considering that it would trigger a long article in The Hindu. In all fairness to him, the J&K govt. spent crores, so he had to give some political remark projecting Mr. Abdullah and co. in better light!
In any case I doubt his opinion on these matters have much influence on administrators or the masses.

from:  Harshal
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 12:10 IST

Ridiculous assumptions. Such thinking benefits only the power cartel of radical extermist groups.
Only fools will think music can settle geo-political disputes. But music & art are crucial to the Freedom of Expression guaranteed by Indian Constitution. If an international embassy makes the effort to enable a concert by the world's leading music conductor, it should have been welcomed so that the event screened worldwide would send positive signals benefitting Kashmniris with tourism revenue.

Nehru ruined the Kashmir issue & Cong has pampered separatists too much. Kashmiris take advantage of benefits India offers in education & a legal identitiy as Indians, and then berate the very govt that provides this to them!
Let us not forget that radical elements have taken over Sufi traditions of Islam ensuring the poor girl band members of Pragaash had to run for their life. They have imposed a very un-Kashmiri headscarf.
Kashmir is non-negotiable & the people must accept this & move on.

from:  Neeta S
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 12:08 IST

I wonder if The Hindu has made up its mind to cede the territory of
Jammu (as Kashmir is already ceded on ground). It is painful to see
The Hindu's once aloft standards, has gone to its nadir by comparing
British's rule to India's claim on Kashmir. I wish to remind my fellow
readers that Jammu is still an integral part of India and we should
not allow these sedition ideas to nurture. I also doubt why The Hindu
cannot be tried on sedition charges though it may argue for freedom of
expression. Freedom of expression cannot be a veil to propel seditious
ideology. On the issue of Army in Jammu, when our enemy has made up
his mind to gun we don't have an option except but to offer bullets.

from:  Rajesh Devan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:56 IST

Wonderful!

from:  Arslan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:53 IST

The author has given real vent to the feelings of kashmiris about the concert.Kashmiris discontent about the concert was well reflected by a complete shutdown on the day it was being performed and the success of a parallel event that told the actual story of Kashmir.

from:  FAROOQ AHMAD RATHER
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:19 IST

Music is a powerful tool to bring peace to human beings and music can change a
lot. Music does not kill, it brings joy and happiness.
Nearly 2,000 guests attended the concert, hosted by the German embassy in the
Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar. Which impact does music have on human beings?
Since time immemorial, music has been embedded in life. It seeps into arts and
culture, finds expressions in language, and has great affect on lifestyle.
Whether vocal or instrumental, music can be viewed as a form of language or
speech, possessing subtler shades of meaning than the spoken word and yet
displaying much more emotive force. There seems to be something innate in
human beings that give them the capacity to understand and respond to musical
tones, rhythms, and patterns.
Music has been known to have many positive effects on its listeners. Listening to
relaxing or stimulating music has the capacity to accelerate the process of
recovery and offers an opportunity to forget everyday life.
Aside from music´s health benefits, music also enhances creativity. It has the
possibility to be a muse that allows people to get their juices flowing. Since music
is administered to both the left and right side of the brain, it can help spark
inspiration that might just be a proving to be a little elusive. Music has also an
effect in a person´s task performing, since it can change moods and give more
motivation to the listener.
There are many other variables that contribute to the effect of music, but there is
certainty in the fact that music has an effect on human, and therefore an effect on
task performances and even to create a peaceful and stable environment. Generally
however,the effect of music has usually been more on the positive side than the
negative.
“After all, there too Hindus and Muslims needed to sit next to each other and listen
to some equal music.”
Is peace possible in Kashmir? I do not know that, but I wish that all Kashmiris can
live in harmony and peace in a peaceful and stable environment and they should
have the possibility to decide about their future.

from:  kurt waschnig
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:14 IST

Mr Menon, I can understand your outrage. But seriously, do we need to take thing
people say so seriously? Mehta said, he played and disappeared. Germany & India will pick up the tab/ ANd outrage in & around Kashmir will stay.
Alternatively it was such a fiddle was it not?
A manufactured event for genuine outrage.....something gained if you are not
counting the cost.

from:  Bindu Tandon
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:10 IST

offended !!
Pl for god sake don't compare Kashmir with Israel-Palentine. What's wrong in
organizing a consort of international fame if it helps to evade the grim outlook of kashmir. And why author is so critical of army being disputed there as the very army is for the protection of Kashmiri only.

from:  shashi
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:09 IST

well written these musicians should know music is not the panacea for
problems even j&k govt is playing politics over kashmir issue.musicians
do all thse tricks to get fame in public and to earn some petty
popularity well written sir ............nice article

from:  praveen
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 11:03 IST

Music is a powerful tool to bring peace to human beings and music can change a lot. Music does not kill, it brings joy and happiness.
Nearly 2,000 guests attended the concert, hosted by the German embassy in the Shalimar Gardens in Srinagar. Which impact does music have on human beings? Since time immemorial, music has been embedded in life. It seeps into arts and culture, finds expressions in language, and has great affect on lifestyle.
Whether vocal or instrumental, music can be viewed as a form of language or speech, possessing subtler shades of meaning than the spoken word and yet displaying much more emotive force. There seems to be something innate in human beings that give them the capacity to understand and respond to musical tones, rhythms, and patterns.
Music has been known to have many positive effects on its listeners. Listening to relaxing or stimulating music has the capacity to accelerate the process of recovery and offers an opportunity to forget everyday life.
Aside from music´s health benefits, music also enhances creativity. It has the possibility to be a muse that allows people to get their juices flowing. Since music is administered to both the left and right side of the brain, it can help spark inspiration that might just be a proving to be a little elusive. Music has also an effect in a person´s task performing, since it can change moods and give more motivation to the listener.
There are many other variables that contribute to the effect of music, but there is certainty in the fact that music has an effect on human, and therefore an effect on task performances and even to create a peaceful and stable environment. Generally however,the effect of music has usually been more on the positive side than the negative.
“After all, there too Hindus and Muslims needed to sit next to each other and listen to some equal music.”
Is peace possible in Kashmir? I do not know that, but I wish that all Kashmiris can live in harmony and peace in a peaceful and stable environment and they should have the possibility to decide about their future.

from:  kurt waschnig
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 10:02 IST

I don't understand why such it is such a big deal if a concert is conducted in Srinagar? If it would have been conducted in say Delhi or Agra or Jaipur, would anyone have bothered to write about it? Isn't this hypocrisy that nobody questions the separatist leaders' motives when they come to New Delhi and give anti-national comments but questions are raised when an innocuous concert is conducted in the Valley.

from:  Kanika bhatnagar
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 09:53 IST

I think any form of music is good for peace, Mr Menon's thoughts are penned for the sake of argument and holds no real basis to be published. Comparing Nero episode to the concert is lack of understanding of the two situations. Nero was the emperor of Rome and Zubin has no such responsibility. Mr Menon argument for Zubin to play in UP instead also sounds so illogical at the least. Very shallow article Mr Menon you give an impression of negativity only and not a very sound journalistic piece....

from:  Kurian
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 09:53 IST

Credit to the editor for publishing this gem of an article from Mr. Sadanand Menon.
A thought provoking well structured piece of prose and the advice pertaining to the last line on Muzzafarnagar cannot be far away from reality9.5%

from:  Mohammed Sheriffm
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 09:33 IST

Thanks for a beautifully written and profound piece. I am reminded of poem 46 of the
Purananuru, addressed to the Chola king Killivalavan when he is about to have the little children of his enemy Malayaman crushed to death by elephants. Kovurkilar, the poet, describes how the children, lying on the field, suddenly forget their crying as they see the grand spectacle of the elephants coming towards them, then look around and feel a terror they have never imagined. The colophon tells us the children were saved by this poem. No such luck with Zubin Mehta's concert, unfortunately.

from:  George Hart
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 09:31 IST

This is the silliest critical view of the 'Zubin Mehta Concert' I have come-across so far. I think, no one - either J&K Govt or Zubin Mehta, was under false-impression that this concert would bring peace to valley. However, I feel such events would contribute to dissolve negative feelings in the vally to some extent in its limited capacity, if not completely. Only those who think this would leave more 'Indian Impressions' on the valley and help people there to feel a part of mainstream India more- are opposing such events; these includes 'separatist' as usual and 'pseudo-intellectuals' for whom its fashionable as always.

from:  ASHWIN TIRTHAKAR
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 08:51 IST

"But, on September 7, if the great man really needed to prove the efficacy of his genius, he should have diverted the entourage away from Srinagar and headed, instead, for Muzaffarnagar. After all, there too Hindus and Muslims needed to sit next to each other and listen to some equal music".

A very original comment which nobody dreamed of that time. Congratulation Sir

from:  Karan
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 07:59 IST

For heaven's sake, Zubin is not Nero the emperor. He is simply a
citizen who happens to be a musician trying to contribute in his own
way to peace and harmony in a land he loves. At least he is trying
which is more than what most of us do. He deserves appreciation or at
worst indifference instead of this diatribe.

from:  Hamid
Posted on: Sep 18, 2013 at 04:09 IST
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