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In divided Kashmir, Zubin Mehta concert sparks a dueling event

September 06, 2013|By Mark Magnier
  • Zubin Mehta walks around the historic Shalimar Mughal Garden in Srinagar, the site of his planned peace concert in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir
Zubin Mehta walks around the historic Shalimar Mughal Garden in Srinagar,… (Farooq Khan / EPA )

NEW DELHI -- It’s a battle of dueling concerts performed in a divided land.

On Saturday, the Bavarian State Orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta, is to give a high-profile performance in the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. The concert, which has been dubbed “Ehsas-e-Kashmir,” or "The Feel of Kashmir," is seen as a way to foster peace and understanding.

“This is a wonderful cultural tribute to Kashmir and its warm-hearted and hospitable people,” the German Embassy, a principal sponsor, said in a statement.

But some local groups -- angered over what they see as excessive cost, elitism and a bid to give legitimacy to India’s rule -- are offering up their own event dub “Haqeeqat-e-Kashmir,” or "The Truth about Kashmir."

Organizers of the parallel event said they were not against Mehta’s music, but are against it being used as propaganda. Residents of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir take immense pride in their “rich history of resisting oppression,” organizers said at a news conference this week.

In addition, they complain that most ordinary Kashmir residents are being kept miles away from the performance by Mehta, who served as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic from 1962 to 1978.

Some relatively unknown guerrilla groups, including the Al-Nasreen, the Farzandan-e-Milat and Shuda Brigade, reportedly have threatened to target foreigners in Kashmir if the Mehta concert goes ahead.

Kashmir has been the object of two of the three wars fought between Pakistan, which controls the other portion, and India since their independence from Britain in 1947.

Mehta, 77, was born in Mumbai before moving to Vienna, Austria, at age 18 to study music. In addition to the L.A. and Bavarian State orchestras, he has been associated with the Montreal Symphony and New York Philharmonic, among others, and is known for his flamboyant conducting style.

Authorities in Srinagar in Indian-held Kashmir said all steps necessary would be taken to maintain law and order Saturday. It wasn’t immediately clear whether that would include banning the parallel event.

Mehta’s performance of Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky pieces is an invitation-only affair to be attended by corporate executives and Bollywood and top sports stars at the renovated Shalimar Mughal Garden. It is to be broadcast live to 104 countries.

The performance is expected to be attended by about 1,500 people -- half of whom have flown in for the event -- under tight security. The road from the airport to the venue reportedly will be closed to locals for 24 hours beforehand.

In contrast, the civic society concert is to feature musical performances, poetry recitals, photography exhibits and performance art in a municipal park open to all, provided security forces don’t shut it down, as some fear.

“The government of India is trying to project that Kashmir is calm and things are hunky-dory here, but this isn’t the truth,” said Hameeda Nayeem, chairperson of the Kashmir Center for Social and Development Studies, a civil group involved in organizing the parallel concert. “Why isn’t everyone allowed in the concert? The area is sanitized and the town looks like a war zone, with checking, frisking. What is the point they’re trying to make?”


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