I couldn’t help feeling decidedly like a young Indian professional, sipping on a fresh lime soda and listening to Eric Clapton during the wind up to the set. Dim lighting and recessed dining alcoves and lounge lizards greeted The Mekaal Hasan Band in Mumbai last Tuesday night at the Blue Frog. The performance undoubtedly had geographic and political significance beyond a border-crossing ‘Sufi rock’ performance.
Mekaal and his group have a following in India which he has strengthened through repeated tours of the country. In fact, his first major music video, “Chal Bulleya” was produced and distributed by an Indian record label. Like many Pakistani musicians who have reached a wide enough fan base across the border, his international exposure has increased as a result.
The concertgoers last Tuesday were blissfully unaware of the latest flare up between India and Pakistan at the Line of Control. Singer Javed Bashir conveyed a lot of love from his fellow Pakistanis to the Indian crowd. The audience swayed back and forth to mystical lyrics set to Mekaal’s signature musical composition.
Upon returning from the concert I watched the television in my room despondently. In response to the mutilation and beheading of an Indian soldier, the media cast serious aspersion on a peace process that has creaked back to life over the last year in the form of visa reform as well as cultural and business exchanges.
The largest distortion taking place in the media is to spin this particular horrific beheading as an unprecedented act. What has been documented is how cruel acts have been committed on both sides. I bring up this point not as a ‘you too’ justification for what took place, but rather to highlight how entrenched the hawkish perspective is within factions of both governments and in civil society.
Marginalizing third-track diplomacy is foolish because it is the best means of addressing the trust deficit and building stronger bilateral ties. When you have Shiv sainiks telling Pakistani field hockey players on Indian teams to go home, it becomes clearer what kinds of constituencies a ratcheting up of Indo-Pak tensions serves most.