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Sufi songs to enthrall Kashmir elite

Haroon Mirani

Srinagar, July 03, 2007:

Three-tier security, commandoes in full gear, and jammers guarded the convocation centre along Dal Lake, as popular Pakistani classical singer Begum Farida Khanum sang before an elite audience in Indian administered Kashmir, led by former Sadr-i-Riyasat (President of state) Dr. Karan Singh.

Though the three day International festival meant to highlight the legacy of Kashmiri Sufi traditions was being touted as a landmark in the cultural relations between India and Pakistan, with people of Kashmir a major party to it, it was ultimately the people who were left out. And of course no body talked about them.

The performance of Khanum –pitched as the major attraction of the 3-day festival- was in sync with Maharaja style mehfil, as she repeatedly looked obligingly towards Karan Singh. Calling him as Raja Sahib (King), Khanum was looking more a docile praja (subject) than a renowned classical singer.

She nostalgically recalled the days when she used to sing before the Bade Raja Sahib (Father of Karan Singh) during 1940’s. Her last wish before her death, as she told the audience was to again perform in Kashmir.

Like the history repeats itself, Khanum sang some of her memorable songs, after 60 years in Kashmir and this time also before the "Maharaja" Karan Singh. The only change was that the courtiers were replaced by bureaucrats, businessmen and other influentials of Kashmir. And like always the event remained a forbidden fruit for a common man.

Perhaps the local organisers were unaware of the public transport schedule and restrictions on nocturnal movement in Kashmir.

The timing of the event –evening until late night- ensured that people who needed public transport were left out.

The event was jointly organised by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and J & K Academy for Art Culture and Languages.

To add to the mismanagement of the festival, the air conditioning was not working, lighting system was horrible, arrangement for media persons and their cameras was absent.

The projector installed in the conference hall beamed live footage of the event in such a manner that people whispered the editing was done by a “butcher”.

The pure Doordarshan (Indian public broadcaster) style camera work was eminent as at times one could see only feet of Khanum, while the constantly moving frames gave impression of a big earthquake.

Earlier as the caravan of Dr. Karan Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Dr. Farooq Abdullah and others arrived at the venue, entire civilian transport was stopped and people had to frustratingly wait in sweltering heat -just 150 metres from the venue- for VIP's to clear the way.

This was the closest possible point where people came in contact with Khanum and they had everything on their lips except the applause. With a similar dose at the end, the event ensured that nothing has changed in Kashmir.



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