Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Rock the party

Now this is rare. As unusual as hen’s teeth. Our generation has seen no live performances. The famed Pakistani Sufi rock band Junoon – means madness in Arabic and obsession in Urdu – performed on the banks of the glistening Dal. A very enthused audience jived to Salman Ahmad, the lead singer, as he crooned hit upon another hit. In the VIP enclosure, Farooq Abdullah [an adrenaline high ex-CM] swayed to the hybrid tunes. The police chief soon joined Abdullah in the fun. Girls, in nearby enclosures, screamed at the top of their voices, cheering on the songster. Boys clapped wildly. The boatmen in the Dal raised their oars in a distance. Music filled the May air of Kashmir.

It was manna for the entertainment starved Kashmiris. 4000 people attended the much hyped-up peace concert. VIPs, children of bureaucrats, friends-of- the-children-of-bureaucrats, students bussed form various missionary schools in Srinagar and a footloose crowd. Security men -- comprising of the local cops [who help erect and maintain the barricades that separate the dignitaries from commoners], the CRPF [who watch over the vehicles of VIPs and can -- alas -- only listen to the tunes from the parking lot] and commandoes [who maintain a hawk-like vigil while the notables tap feet with the songster] – were present in great numbers.

Not surprisingly a great deal is being made of the rock and roll jamboree in Srinagar. It is being made to appear like a prelude to peace. Junoon -- the harbinger. The symbolism is already in place. A Pakistani band singing Sufi rock. The correlation is not too hard to fathom. Former bad guys turned good guys. Former Sufis to radicals -- back to -- Sufism. We just need to join the dots.

Connections apart, music -- no doubt -- is soulful. It is levitating. And no one perhaps needs it better than the Kashmiris. But one is compelled to question the timing of this little show. Kashmir is in a state of flux. We live in tumultuous times where cases of severe human rights violations have not been properly investigated. Where people continue to suffer on a daily basis. A dance jig by Dr Abdullah or a joyous shriek by some top official’s daughter, however shrill, at the Dal concert cannot be called peace.

They may briefly tell you that Junoon's music soared from the shores of Dal. They might as well add that it soared higher than the elegant poplars that line the high-security hotel lawns in which the band played. They won’t tell you that a few miles away hundreds of orphans sleep early – in the Kashmir Yateem Trust – because their parents were lost to the violence years. Their moist, unloved eyes deserve our respect. As do thousands of parents whose children disappeared over the years and no one – none of the VIP’s, none of the police chiefs, no judge present in the music concert – ever tells them anything about their whereabouts. Their parents’ agony – a sad legacy of war -- needs our sensitivity. They require our attention. And solidarity. Not the rock star – Salman.

Let me put this straight. I am not being sardonic here. I admit that there are many recreation outlets available to Kashmiris despite their daily brushes with violence. So you might as well argue -- why should I take offence at a harmless peace concert? Do we stop laughing because people have suffered? Or because they continue to suffer.

The answer is a big no. We must indeed try and live our lives full on. A music band complete with its gear – drums and guitars and microphones – playing in a strife-torn place, with a crowd swaying to them indeed makes great headlines. It also sends out a message. Everything is fine. Normal. There is nothing wrong in this manufactured message only that it is NOT correct.

Scratch beneath the glossy surface – the lush lawns, the imposing mountain backdrop, the legendary Dal, good-looking people, Farooq Abdullah's romps, rich brats hollering [they don’t talk in Kashmiri, by the way] – and you have the real picture. Old men humiliatingly frisked on the roadsides, village elders slapped in front of village gatherings, scores of war orphans, people carrying the sick in horse-carts with a lantern at night, dis-appeared young men, mass graves.

Scratch a little more and you have the real Kashmir. Villages with no electricity, cities with no roads, forests with no trees. Widespread corruption. No awareness for the protection of environment. A slow and painful death of the Kashmiri language in urban Kashmir. Ziltch intellectual curiosity.

Amidst all this a concert looks terribly out of place. Of course no one in the valley will tell you that they have a problem with these shows. ‘It brings peace here,’ some buffoon might tell you. Really, you struggle to say.

We desperately need a truth and reconciliation committee. We need to seriously atone. We need to learn to forget, forgive and forge a completely new beginning. We also need to be sensitive to the plight of so many of our people.

That is step one and we haven’t achieved it yet.

Rock concerts can always follow.