Guitars for Guns
Junoon conquers hearts in the terror-stricken valley of Kashmir
Even until just a day before, uncertainty loomed over the status of the Junoon concert which was to be held on the lawns of the Sher-e-Kashmir International Convention Complex off the Dal Lake in Srinagar. Ahmad and his band were rushed from the airport to their hotel in bullet-proof jeeps in light of the death threats triggered off by the culturally-skewed mentality of the United Jehad Council. Ahmad recalls suggesting the idea of doing a Junoon concert at Srinagar to a couple of promoters exactly a decade ago in 1998. Of all responses, one crudely cuts through the musician’s memory: “Not in your lifetime!”
On May 25, Kashmir had what Ahmad believes to be its first ever rock concert. The concert was organised by the South Asian Foundation and SAF founder and UNESCO goodwill ambassador Madanjeet Singh who was the architect behind the event. The Singhs, a Boston-based band that combines bluegrass and Indian influences, opened for Junoon. Amongst the thousands that showed up in spite of the dangers involved, in attendance were a bevy of diplomats, ambassadors and political figures such as Farookh Abdullah, former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Union Minister Mani Shankar Iyer and Afhghan Minister for woman affairs HB Gazanfar and former foreign minister of Bangladesh Kamal Hassan. But this did not necessarily deem an officious occasion; the day remained true to rock and roll. As the girls whirled and danced to the music with their voices searing through the peaceful valley, Abdullah is said to have taken notice actually getting up to take a look at the musical fiasco that surrounded him ”“ then he surprised all by walking up to the head of police who stood at guard and urged him to dance breaking into a little jig himself. Ahmad endearingly recalls moments from the day that would inspire moist eyes ”“ a 13- or 14-year old Kashmiri girl dodged the cops and jumped over the barbwire that guarded the stage just to tell Ahmad that she had been dying to hear ”˜Sayonee’ live since forever. The band which also played at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, played most numbers off Junoon’s album Azadi which the Kashmiri audience were more familiar. “The scale and emotion of this concert and the fact that it would get such attention summed up a life-transforming experience for me. As for the United Jehad Council, I would just like to tell them, ”˜Let’s do a musical Jehad instead’,” says Ahmad.