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Kashmir Cantata May 31, 2008

Posted by lollywoodhungama in Uncategorized.
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Kashmir Cantata
Junoon, the soft-rocking dervishes from Pakistan, came as a rare musical interlude
Despite staying in the same hotel, it proved hard to pin down Salman Ahmed—the lead singer and guitarist of the Pakistani Sufi rock group Junoon—for an interview. Faced with opposition from hardliners against his concert, he preferred to lie low, doing riyaaz at the crack of dawn by the peaceful expanse of Dal Lake, instead of talking to the media. But after the success of the concert, it was quite another story—Salman had become an instant celebrity, a bigger presence in the Kashmir capital than the visiting president of India. When our turn with him finally came at 2.30 am, you could hear the joy in his voice, even at that unearthly hour.
 
  For the young, the concert came as a rare relief from their limited world. And they seized the moment.  
 
“After performing in innumerable shows you can get jaded, till something like this comes along to energise you,” said Salman, “the response was totally unexpected, unprecedented.” The concert, organised by the South Asia Foundation (a secular, non-profit,

 

non-political organisation with chapters in the eight SAARC nations), in association with the University of Kashmir, was indeed unique, the first of its kind in the two decades since militancy claimed Kashmir in 1989. There have been occasional concerts like those of Begum Akhtar and Farida Khanum but those were for the bureaucracy and officials. Junoon’s show was the first one for the public, packing in over 5,000 people. The venue at Chashm-e-Shahi made it even more memorable, with the majestic Zabarwan ranges providing a dramatic backdrop to the stage and the tranquil waters of the Dal Lake spread in front.

In this idyllic setting, Junoon’s music spoke of all the right things: peace and harmony, pluralism, unity and regional cooperation, of music transcending religion to bring people together. The political symbolism of the concert became more pronounced, given the fact that just a couple of days before the event, the United Jehad Council, the umbrella group of militant organisations, had passed a resolution against the show. Their leader Syed Salahuddin had urged the Pakistan government to stop Junoon’s performance since it would have a negative impact on the “disputed status” of Kashmir and send a wrong signal to the international community that “Kashmir was an integral part of India”.

Salman’s response was to dub his show a “jehad for peace”. “It’s about waging a war through the guitar rather than the gun,” he said. “Both sides of the border, we have been demonising the other, but music is a universal emotion and the success of Pakistani musicians in India, like Atif Aslam, Strings and Jal, shows another way to take the peace process forward,” he added. “We have begun something, now it’s for others to take it forward,” said Union minister Mani Shankar Aiyer who heads the India chapter of SAF.

Junoon’s concert had cultural significance as well: it marked the opening of the Institute of Kashmir Studies at the University of Kashmir, which aims to revive the region’s rich and distinctive culture. But more than political-cultural issues, the concert’s real significance was in the way it reached out to young Kashmiris. They flocked to the venue in hordes, stood for hours in long queues; patiently bore with rigorous security checks and the scorching sun. But none of this dampened their enthusiasm. In fact, it came as a rare relief from the tensions—and tedium—of their daily lives….

“The boys here have been facing bullets in the last 20 years and the girls have hardly seen anything of life,” observed a local journalist. Indeed, youngsters in Srinagar have very few options for entertainment other than watching TV or DVDs. There are no malls, multiplexes or clubs.”We carry our music and spend time listening to it by the lake,” said Rashid, a student at Kashmir University.

In such a limited and limiting world, the concert was a release, specially for the girls. And they seized the moment with gusto. They sat quietly as the concert began, gently moving their hands to the tunes. By the time Salman began playing the hot favourite, Sayonee, they were up on their feet, clapping, dancing and whistling in happy abandon. What helped was the fact that Junoon’s is the kind of music they could instantly connect with. It was their language, their concerns and feelings, be it Meri awaaz suno, mujhe azaad karo or Yaaro yehi dosti hai; Iqbal’s Khudi ko kar bulund itna or Bulle Shah’s Mandir dha de, masjid dha de.

“We want more such events here,” said college student Aban Mullick. The environment certainly seems conducive at the moment for fostering a lively youth culture. The town might look as though it is under siege, bathed in army hues of olive green and khaki, but Srinagar has been peaceful for a while now. The economy is looking up a little with tourists from Gujarat, south India and Bengal cavorting in the Mughal Gardens and posing for pictures in shikaras. Life seems normal but the underlying unease is also palpable. One incident can tilt the balance—that’s the unspoken fear.

And though the young may have lost themselves happily in Junoon’s music for an evening, their frustration at the lack of opportunities in the Valley remains. The concert was but a glimpse of a normal, vibrant world, that’s still a long way out of their reach.

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