At the risk of being termed the proverbial party pooper, I do believe now is the time to point out that despite all the flutter and fuss preceding and following Mr. Zardari’s visit to India, artistes and musicians from the two countries share a relationship that is as complex, fractious and potentially explosive as the tenuous ties between the two nations. For many years now, I have publicly declared that despite the often severely strained relations between the two countries, “aal ij well” to quote from Aamir Khan’s 3 Idiots. I now need to withdraw that statement, as it would be hypocritical and idiotic to not do so. Because under the thin veneer of bonhomie and mutual admiration lie complex prejudices and biases that have for long either been brushed under the carpet or remained unarticulated, debated or discussed. In the process, solutions are impossible to come by, for you can only repair and restore if you admit that some damage exists in the first place.
While there is a huge fan following for Pakistani artistes in India, and artistes from India are reciprocally admired and feted in Pakistan, a simmering sense of resentment and one-upmanship exists on both sides of the border. Occasional outbursts reported by the media reveal that Indian musicians believe that visiting musicians from Pakistan are given a much easier deal in India. Reciprocal treatment is denied to Indian artistes invited to perform in Pakistan. They would like a tit-for-tat policy enforced. If Indian artistes are not permitted to broadcast on Pakistan radio and television, we should not permit Pakistani artistes to be featured in the Indian media. Here is a situation that echoes the sentiments of some who say that Dr. Chishti should not have been released from prison when mercy petitions for Sarabjeet have gone unheeded.
Between musicians, particularly those practicing classical music, the spirit of one-upmanship is unprecedented. Some would say that it is in the nature of performers to be competitive and therefore a healthy rivalry between artistes of the two nations should be of no concern. If only this was as simple as it sounds. The need to lay claim to being the true custodians and torchbearers of a hoary tradition is echoed on both sides of the border. There are some in Pakistan who would have us believe that there was no classical music in pre-Islamic times, and that they are the fountainheads of the original tradition. Here at home are a matching number who only accept the Vedas as the source of all evolved music. All other influences are believed to be defiling and polluting. In the age of easy access to information, the rabidly sickening claims, the petty peeves, the abusive language, and the hatred can be ignored, but not hidden. It shows up somewhere or the other often turning shared concert spaces between artistes of the two countries into war zones where decibel levels are used as weapons. if even in the realm of music and art, we are unable to transcend borders and boundaries, what hope can we have of peace in a subcontinent where once we shared many traditions?