Zubin Mehta in India: Let The Music Play, “Yahoo!”

Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” –Plato

Experts recommend that listening to slow self-selected music (any kind of music that makes you feel good) after a stressful day significantly reduces negative emotional states. Even the dripping sound of water or the chirping sound of birds can help you calm down. In fact, in the avian world, when the males dance and generally behave like besotted idiots while courting, have a lot importance their singing abilities in order to call the attention of the ladies who stand around like a collection of critics and pretend to be uninterested while secretly checking the guys out. Not only to attract mates, mostly males sing because they typically take the lead in defending or proclaim territories. However, especially in the tropics, some species sing duets involving both the male and female. So, “the experts”, suggest that music reduces the risk of a stroke and heart problems and also ease muscle tension. Sleep is the most important thing in the day and listening to music just before sleeping enhances it, they approve so consistently. Then, what is your excuse? You can access the benefits of music anytime, even without a music-player, you may only need to open your window or step into a nearby park to feel the stress being washed away.

zubin-mehta by Jack Robinson
Zubin Mehta. Photo courtesy: Jack Robinson

Publicly announcing that music is a universal language, that music connects with its magic power crossing geographical, political and cultural borders, the Germany Embassy in New Delhi will host an unprecedented event: A Concert. On Saturday 7th., the Indian born world famous conductor of classical music, Zubin Mehta, will conduct the “Bayerische Staatsorchester” (Bavarian State Orchestra) from Munich, in Kashmir, which is an Indian northwestern region, also called and known as “the Heaven on Earth” because of its natural widespread beauty. Over 1,500 guest have been invited for the program to be telecast live in 24 foreign countries.

In the words of the greatest of the Sanskrit poets, Kalidas, Kashmir is “more beautiful than the heaven and is the benefactor of supreme bliss and happiness.” The splendor and salubriousness of the Kashmir valley is legendary! But at present time the scenery is totally different than those splendorous years in the past, and that is the reason why sections of the Indian media have reported calls of boycott the event from local political parties, activists and group of intellectuals and artists.

The people who promote the boycott, say they are not opposed to the orchestra, the conductor or the music, but they believe the Indian authorities are using the event to claim that the situation is normal in the disputed area. Why disputed?

The majority of Kashmiri people are Muslim. When India and Pakistan split, the ruler of Kashmir was Hindu, and he decided to join his region to India. That decision to tie up with India in 1947, without any consultation, was also due to a last minute stab in the back by Britain and its “superstar” Mountbatten. Since then, the two countries have fought several declared wars over the territory. The Indo-Pakistani War of 1947 established the rough boundaries of today; with Pakistan holding roughly one-third of Kashmir, and India one-half. But since then, the Kashmir ‘song’ has been a tale by a bloody conductor of violence; hearing the song of the oppressed, mothers crying for their loss, widows and the dishonored sisters and daughters screaming, the innocent indiscriminately charged or attacked and silenced forever (and many missing men which has been subject to several documentaries). Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Kashmir over the years as a result of insurgents militancy, backed by Pakistan, and the subsequent security operations of the Indian authorities. The terrorists from Pakistan have carried out multiple acts of terror, while in the other hand Indian troops also have engaged in murder and torture as documented by various human rights organizations, like the Human Rights Watch.

The people who are against this event argue that it is just a “pretext“, nothing but a propaganda tool; as an international event like this would tend to proclaim that everything is well and nothing is been happening. The veteran leader of a political organization demanding independence for Kashmir, has called a shutdown in the Kashmir valley on Saturday stating that there is no relevance for a music program, because local people are suffering, which is often forgotten by the outside world, and India with the help of the German government is trying to say that the situation should be ignored.

Germany’s ambassador, said: “This concert is for the people of Kashmir. Beethoven, Haydn and Tchaikovsky, played by a world acclaimed maestro and one of the best orchestras of the world in one of the most enchanting places in the world.” This is not totally true. Didn’t they know that would be too controversial and sensitive their decision to make such event in Kashmir? In fact, from the 1,500 guests, most of them are army personal, diplomats, bureaucrats, prominent civil society leaders, artists close to the Indian establishment and mainly politicians with their close friends and families. But they have left behind most of the local musicians. The BMW car manufacturer is one of the sponsors and will deploy a large fleet of around 50 BMW’s to transport the orchestra contingent (a publicity stunt?) The security concern is equal as if the Prime Minister of India would be visiting the region. All nearby villages have been subjected to repeated scrutiny, even locals say security agencies have been enumerating members in every family.

Despite some media try to make a political-religious issue out of this, the Kashmiris are making very clear that the issue is not because Zubin Mehta is the Music Director for Life of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (and the Main Conductor for Valencia’s opera house) and claim that even doesn’t have nothing to do with his association with Israel. The reason why many Kashmiri Muslims are angry is because a foreign embassy bring in an Indian artist in such a contested region making them feel like they are rubbing salt on Kashmiri people’s wounds. But on the other hand, those same people who claim the boycott, are the same fundamentalist Muslims who do not respect freedom of expression in the region. They are the same people who make threat calls to youngsters for being music-disk-jockeys or force young girls to disband their rock bands warning them of dire consequences if they do not quite music.

Whatever may be the reason behind the decision of conducting such concert in Kashmir, as a universal language, music unites people across cultures and can comfort people in times of need and sadness.There is something in music that transcends and unites. I am sure Zubin Mehta sees the tremendous power of classic music not only as a personal spiritual experience but also as a force for change, serving as a voice for social advocacy and enhancing mutual understanding between differing cultures. Here is an opportunity to provide soothing music in an artistic and culturally sensitive environment which they should not despise, and of course to promote the one thing that both Hindus and Muslims need most: Normalcy.

Side Note:

No Bollywood film would be complete without a song and dance between the hero and heroine. Not only in the avian world the males dance and behave like besotted idiots while courting… In the early days, there was an awful lot of hugely hilarious dancing series around, believe it or not, a tree! In fact, there was a time when ‘the tree’ seemed to take center stage. If the camera made strategic moves off-screen to shots of birds and trees, this was quite enough to suggest activities… that the censors might not approve of. Kashmir was once the favorite destination for films shootings but became a no-go zone for Bollywood after the increase of terrorism in 1990.

Though some films were shot in Kashmir amidst tight security, yet Bollywood could not reconnect itself with Kashmir. But nowadays the breathtaking beauty and hassle-free permits are attracting the filmmakers to shoot their movies and serials in the Kashmir Valley. The late Bollywood actor, Shammi Kapoor (a rebel on the silver screen and the “Elvis” of Indian cinema), has been a household name in Kashmir for decades, so much that the word “Yahoo” to any Bollywood films lover is not reminiscent of a website…; it reminds them of the famous Shammi Kapoor song where he was merrily rolling on the icy mountains of Kashmir, singing and screaming out his confession of love: YAAAAHOOOOO !!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kZ0NVhUUfwY

Screen-shot of the movie “Junglee” (1961) with Shammi Kapoor and Saira Banu. The “Yahoo” shout became a symbol of Shammi’s wild lover-boy image of the times.

About the Author
Alfredo de Braganza is an award-winning independent filmmaker & chocolate-coated sufganiyah lover from Spain currently living in India. His documentary "Smoking Babas" was selected for the Madrid International Film Festival and his film "Maayan The Fisherman" for Best Narrative Film at the Florida International Film Festival. He is the first Spanish person to make a feature film in India, on celluloid and native language. His documentary "Boxing Babylon" won Best Documentary Awards at the 2013-Norway Film Festival and New Delhi International Sports Film Festival. He can be contacted at: alfredodebraganza@gmail.com www.alfredodebraganza.com