When the sound of singer-composer Adnan Sami’s piano wafted across the lawns of the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Centre in Srinagar on Saturday, the rows of empty seats seemed to mock the music. There were very few ordinary people in the audience, speaking of the elitist nature of the event. Most of the audience comprised the political and bureaucratic elite and security personnel. So, in a sense, the purpose of holding the event in Srinagar was served in breach.
In hindsight, it appears the government did not want the common people to attend the show, lest it result in protests against the event and in favour of Kashmir’s azadi. In an unprecedented measure, the government barred all transport on the Boulevard and made elaborate traffic arrangements to divert traffic from roads close to the venue. A press release to this effect was advertised in newspapers.
According to a government handout, around 3,000 guests – including “children, media persons and officers” – were expected to attend the concert. The deputy commissioner of Srinagar supervised the event. He and the tourism director jointly issued “colour coded passes for one person on non-transferable basis” and set up a joint control room of all concerned departments at the venue. But as the composition of the audience underlined, the common people had been deliberately kept away.
But unlike the concert of Pakistani rock band Junoon in May 2008, which was opposed by Hizbul Mujahideen chief Syed Salahuddin, or that of conductor Zubin Mehta in 2013 or even the literary festival in 2011 that faced a severe backlash from civil society, no political or social group took exception to Sami’s event. For the state and the Central government, the concert – which came in the wake of another show by Kashmiri singer Abha Hanjura – was an attempt at sending across a message of normalcy about Kashmir to boost drastically reduced tourism inflow.
Sami’s concert acquired some political overtones that were not lost on Kashmir. As he sang his chartbusting songs on the banks of the Dal Lake to the applause of the audience, his background as a former Pakistani musician who voluntarily renounced the country’s citizenship to become an Indian citizen was important in a place rife with pro-freedom and pro-Pakistan sentiment.
However, this implicit political message did not seem to matter much. When the singer emerged on the stage, the crowd broke into spontaneous applause. When he sang famous songs such as Teray bina jiya jay na and Dil keh raha hai dilbar, the audience sang along. Still, the excitement was muted compared to Sami’s concerts elsewhere. And one did not need to look far for the reason.
The empty seats and the general indifference of the people towards the concert reflected a Kashmir that is far from normal. While concerts like the one by Sami send a deceptively positive message to the rest of the country and the world about Kashmir, they do little to ameliorate the depressing situation in the state. More so, when people are deliberately left out of the events.
This article first appeared on Kashmir Observer.