Pakistan’s Junoon light up Kashmir

Journalist Zahid Rafiq witnessed a controversial concert in Indian-administered Kashmir at which star billing went to Pakistani band Junoon, which is well-known for publicly raising controversial issues such as HIV/Aids, the Kashmir dispute and corruption in Pakistan.

Women and men watched from separate enclosures

Women and men watched from separate enclosures (Photos: Farooq Khan)

Kashmir has never seen a music event like it. Every guitar riff made bodies sway in passion.

The thumping of the bass speakers matched the beating of the fans’ hearts. Feet tapped, heads rocked, lips were in sync with the lyrics.

Junoon, one of the best Pakistani bands, was live on stage in Indian-administered Kashmir beside the shimmering waters of Srinagar’s Dal Lake.

People had waited anxiously for Junoon’s lead singer, Salman Ahmad, to appear in Sunday’s concert.

Even before he sang the first note of his famous song, “Yaaro yehi dosti hay”, the audience was on its feet.

Fans pressed closer to the stage.

“I gave the security a slip and entered into the VIP enclosure. I wouldn’t even mind the commandos hitting me,” one student, Beenish, told me.

“I wanted to catch a glimpse of Salman. I just love him and just imagine – he has come from Pakistan.”

Opposition

The concert had been organised by a non-government organisation, the South Asia Foundation.

Salman Ahmad on stage in Srinagar

Salman Ahmad had to sing Junoon’s best known song twice

It was also a part of celebrations held to mark the inauguration of the Kashmir Study Institute at Kashmir University.

Junoon, a Sufi pop band, is the first international group to perform in the conflict-torn Kashmir for the past two decades.

The event – for which entrance was by invitation card only – caused political controversy.

Leading Kashmiri militant, Syed Salahuddin, head of the Hizb-ul Mujahideen group, had urged the Pakistan government not to allow Junoon to travel to Srinagar.

He argued that the performance would have a negative impact on the “disputed status” of Kashmir and would send a wrong signal to the international community that “Kashmir was an integral part of India”.

The student union body of the Kashmir University had also protested against the concert. As a result, many students stayed away.

The South Asia Foundation had anticipated up to 10,000 people in the audience. But the numbers were well below that.

Security worries

But that didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those who did attend.

One young man who hadn’t received an invitation card managed to secure one for 500 rupees ($12).

“I bought the card from the money I had to pay for my tuitions but missing the concert was not an option. I had to make it here today,” he said, gesturing to me to keep quiet.

“I want to hear him sing “Bulla shah”.

In a separate enclosure, girls were up on their feet, their arms outstretched and hair flying. “It is amazing. This is the first concert I have attended and it is great,” one said.

The heavy security did spoil the day for some.

“I felt like dancing sometimes but the number of guns around constantly made me feel that I am not welcome here,” one student, Asif, said.

“The security guards pushing the people from the audience never let me go into the musical mode.”

The high-point of the concert was Junoon’s first chartbuster and their most famous song “Sayonee”.

Even the VIP area was rocking. No one could resist joining in.

Farooq Abdullah, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, was the first one to sing along from the VIP area.

He made Director General of police, Kuldeep Khoda, raise his hands too. And then, the other dignitaries joined in.

The audience made Salman sing “Sayonee” again and this time the entire audience joined in.

It was a concert that will stay long in the memory.

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