Lesser known histories

The book tells us that there is more to Kashmir than what meets the eye.

Book : Valley of Words
Author: Shakeel-ur-Rehman
Price: Rs.400
Available at: Gulshan Publications, Srinagar
Reviewer: Zahoor Ahmad

I had read this book just before it actually hit the stands in October this year. Recently, I happened to re-read it and found that it has lost none of its relevance. A work of deep research ‘Valley of Words’ is a history of Kashmir, which has perhaps never been told the way Rehman has narrated it. The first few pages tell us the story of Kashmir prior to its emergence from Noah’s deluge. Rehman’s prose is excellent and his description of history is just awesome. It reminds one that there is more to Kashmir than what meets the eye. In his description of Kashmir Rehman tells us that there is something special about Kashmir. That the valley is not just about the conflict nor about competing nationalisms.
To quote him, “The splendour of the crafts and the epicurean delights of the wazwaan make the place (Kashmir) and the people unique”, admittedly, he continues, “Kashmir and Kashmiris need to be investigated, seriously...” It is a known fact that Kashmir produced one of the first written historical accounts in South Asia, Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. And yet, ironically, one of the casualties of the contemporary conflict in and over Kashmir has been the writing of its history. Combative agencies have ensured that much of what is written about Kashmir is little more than propaganda. That is why in the last about a decade only a handful of meaningful books have appeared which tell the real story of Kashmir; histories which were never narrated before. The book by Shakeel-ur-Rehman comes, therefore, as a pleasant surprise. A well known TV anchor, Radio commentator and former journalist Rehman brings to his accounts the strength of a snoopy reporter.
As we know oral sources are grossly undervalued in history. Most historians are skeptical about individual testimonies. Human memory, we are told, is grossly unreliable. Unfortunately, this disdain for oral sources has meant that a wealth of rich stories has disappeared. And, often in the absence of the written word, no real history can be written. Shakeel-ur-Rehman, thankfully, does not share this cynicism of the conservative historian. While he consulted other archival material, Rehman gained his principal insights from interviews conducted by him with historians who have known and seen Kashmir closely.
He deserves appreciation for the fact that he has attempted a sort of “birds- eye” view of Kashmir’s history. Lesser known facts find considerable space in his book. Honestly speaking, ‘Valley of Words’ is a very special book. It seeks to cover the mostly unknown aspects of Kashmir’s history. The book is rich in detail and elegant in style. The account is brilliant and moving, and is first-rate by the standards of both a journalist and a social historian. Through his work Rehman has demonstrated that there is still a lot to be written about Kashmir.

Lastupdate on : Wed, 21 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 21 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 22 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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