Zubin Mehta is Bach-ing up the wrong tree. I know a section of Indians go all gooey about “aapro Zubin”, a phrase that beats my ear-drums into wanting to produce the most déclassé dhin-chak sounds that would make our classical aficionados squirm.
Now, Zubin Mehta has done the country proud. He has performed with the very best at the prime venues. There is no disputing that. However, is the music he wields the baton for for general consumption? He has two performances coming up in Mumbai and has effectively issued an ultimatum:
“I don’t know if I’ll be back again. The government makes it so difficult to put on a concert with its tax demands. If we give in to all the demands, we’ll not make any money to give to charity.”
The charity he supports helps the study of western classical music. Those who are exposed to it are most certainly capable of paying fees for it or even training abroad. The government taxation policy is rather steep for all entertainment activities as well as other sectors. But, Mr. Mehta’s attitude is limited to his own world:
“Taxes for popular rock ‘n’ roll concerts in stadiums makes more sense because they make a clear profit. But we have just 1,200 people in the audience and sponsors who all ask for free tickets—there’s no logic. It’s very frustrating.”
The fact is that he has sponsors. The 1200 people is a limited number and he should be wondering why that is so in a cosmopolitan city. What he calls rock ’n roll concerts are probably music shows by pop artistes. They do make a profit but they too have to fork out taxes.
Worse, movie tickets, even the escapist fare that was a staple of the lower middle class and the poor, are now so heavily taxed that most of the audience has dwindled. There is no concept of silver jubilees anymore. Even a 100-day run is rare, if at all. The cinema halls have been forced to keep a heavy mark-up on snacks. It is unfair but how else do they maintain the hall and the sound system?
It is interesting that the stars of the classical world who do not even live in India want the best facilities. Earlier, Pandit Ravi Shankar got some land. His excuse was that he was taking Indian music to the West and making us feel proud as some goras started fiddling with the strings sitting on the floor wearing kurtas and looking like god’s own children. Have the older doyennes of Indian classical music or dance been treated on par? Remember Ustad Bismillah Khan’s plight? Remember how Sitara Devi had to decline a Padma Shri when she deserved much more years ago?
Zubin Mehta just might make some headway if he taps the right sources, and it won’t be difficult for him. Meanwhile, some business house can easily help his charity by putting aside a corpus so that those who are really keen can learn about Mozart. But will they stay here or will they get wings and fly the coop to return as prodigals?