Between Nund and Shaikh

The book cracks into a severe tension between Real and Legend

Author: Dr. Farooq Fayaz
Book: Shaikh-ul-Alam— Kashmir
Pages: 185
Publisher: Gulshan Books, Srinagar
Edition: 2011
Price: $ 23.99 Rs. 825/- [HB]
Reviewer: Javid Ahmad Dar 

Across the Lengths and breadths of Kashmir did I roam;
None greeted me at his door;
When I patched up my torn rags;
They betook me for a trickster;
When my body wilted, mum I became;
In the end all left me utterly desolate;
As if the ravens fly having devoured a carcass.
 (Shaikh Nuruddin)
Having a little information about a historical personality is a serious problem and similar is the difficulty of having huge information about a particular person. And tragedy with some is that despite knowing a lot, we know too little about them. That is the case with Shaikh Nuruddin of Kashmir. His life (and achievements) was documented nearly two centuries after his departure “from this worldly life”. There is an uncertainty and dilemma, somewhat similar to Western “Socratarian Dilemma”, whatever, little or much, we ‘know’ Shaikh said or wrote, its authenticity is uncertain. Amin Kamil’s challenge to “Gangulnama—Yus Kare Gungul Tsu Kare Krav” is a best example along with certain, sometimes derogatory, ‘remarks’ about few places like Pantha-Chowk, and Arigome.
As the time passed and history marched, many fanciful tales and mysterious stories mixed with associative faith piled up about Shaikh Nuruddin’s life and achievements. Many a people ascribed their own words, verses, things (and even manufactured few karamats) to Nund Rishi making him legendary rather historical mystic. This historical and centuries old ongoing process makes the subject interesting, but quite difficult. One of my teachers makes a quite strange argument, which I seldom would understand, that “making of Nund-Rishi into Shaikh-ul-Alam was the historical moment of great loss” for we lost a mass-leader of deprived and under-privileged class—the majority, to an alien but celebrated world.  
Slightly in a different context but with a ‘similar’ concern Jacques Derrida wrote, “[N]ietzsche’s text calls for another kind of reading, one more faithful to his type of writing: since what Nietzsche wrote, he wrote”. Approaching and interpreting a historical figure that with the march of history is made legendary is never an easy task. Prof. Farooq Fayaz has undertaken a zealous task and successfully given it a shape of a book, Shaik-ul-Alam—Kashmir Revisited. The book is based on five chapters and Introduction. Prof. Riyaz Punjabi’s precise Foreword is quite illuminating. The Author felt the “need to re-explore the multiplicity of the personality of Shaikh Nuruddin” and “revisit” his time; approaches the subject by a quite fair use of folk sources. The Author is quite conscious of the entailed difficulties and has handled them quite professionally.
Quite understandably one can think and conclude why Shaikh Nuruddin left the social life and confined himself to solitary cave, but why he happily bid farewell to Cave and travelled through the Vale, is a perplexing question. Prof. Fayaz attempts a response which is the prime theme of the book. The reasons, he concludes, are:
(a) To preach Islam in a local narrative and spread it far and wide for Its message was confined to Srinagar only for “Foreign Sayyids” chose to settle in Urban Kashmir (p-8);
(b) Since Muslim Zaheri Ulemas, as author calls them, deeply “exploited the very innocence of illiterate folk”, Shaikh step out to rescue the masses of this oppression (p-14);
(c) to set people free of their belief in witch-craft, magic, superstition and Shirk (p-11);
(d) to encounter Brahmanic activism which was a source of social injustice (p-11);
(e) to fight against rural poverty and feudal oppression; Shaikh instead of being mute spectator, “voiced against such injustices” (p-91);
(f) to fight against institutional social injustices like Caste and Nobility;
(g) to restore individual dignity; and
(h) to make Rishi Order inclusive by expanding it to neglected sections of society like women.
The author makes an important argument that merits further research and debate: “The admittance of rural girls within the fold of Rishi order at a time when the entire socio-economic landscape of Kashmir was characterized by male dominance, suggest to the fact that the Kashmiri women enjoyed maximum autonomy to enter into a religious discourse as against her counterparts in rest of the subcontinent (p-105, emphasis added).
Nund-Reshi was born in a peculiar historical upheaval, the Kashmir society as a whole was witnessing a great transformation in embracing Islam as a new faith system. He was beset with many challenges. Majority of people were mercilessly exploited by priestly and feudal classes alike. Tragically, the then Historians found it improper to document the life and role of this Mujahid along with Lalla-Ded. Both were neglected alike. It were common unlettered masses “who held them in high reverence, came forward and engraved their message and work on the slates of their chest” (p-113). Being ignorant of the niceties of documentation, the duo became legendary rather historical. Author makes an apt point when he refers to a folk tale associated with Shaikh’s birth. The tale referring to “nag” (Spring) underlines the traditions of, firstly, “naga-worship”  as an established religious belief, Secondly, “the forecasting merit of Hindu Sadhus and Jogis”, and lastly, the social landscape of Kashmir wherein childless women were “treated as an object of ridicule” (pp-117-118). Similarly, Shaikh’s refusal to suck milk and later sucking Lalla-Ded is more a continuity of Kashmir culture and tradition rather factual happenings.  
While Shaikh travelled throughout Kashmir for a variety of reasons, primarily to spread the true message of Islam and fight against social injustice, it also provided him an adequate opportunity to understand Kashmir society and her dynamics. His interactions and encounters with a wide range of people not only helped his cause of social justice but importantly “provided a base on which the edifice of Rishi order was laid in the times to come” (p-17). Instead of advising the people from the cave, which many so-called reformers in today’s Kashmir do, he took all routes to understand the society and gradually transform it. The ‘people’ whom he fought against did not welcome the saint. The book is full of such encounters of Nund Rishi with Brahmans, Mullahs, Ulemas, Feudal (Lords), Officials and Caste/Class conscious Hindus and Muslims. Importantly, the author makes a very convincing negation of thesis of those intellectuals who hold that Shaikh’s verses “bear an indelible mark of Saivite philosophy” (p-56-57 fn. 60). 
Despite being a profound account, the book has few limitations. There are a lot many typographical mistakes which really annoy the reader; the publisher should take responsibility for this. At few places, reference details are inadequate, mis-typed and the contemporary global norms have not been followed. The Last chapter enlists 29 references in the “reference list/end notes”, but, none is referred in the main chapter save one that too inappropriately. It is my hunch that Chapter II (The Road to Kaimoh) which details the biography should have been the first chapter of the book. The last chapter is full of repetitions of events and episodes discussed in earlier chapters which could have been safely avoided by making a reference to previous chapters, if their reference was required at all for making or refuting certain arguments. Arguments are, understandably, repeated for further clarifications or refutations of certain established thesis. But, entire events need not to be. And also one gets a feeling that the Book concludes quite suddenly and requires proper concluding remarks. The few verses and sayings which have been left un-translated would make it difficult for non-Kashmiri readership, but, it does not belittle the wonderful translations made or referred.
While concluding, it can certainly be said that the book is worth-reading and deserves a wide reading across disciplines. I thank and congratulate the author for undertaking such a sensitive and difficult subject for being over-loaded with the faith of people of Kashmir. The book draws from unconventional sources and importantly while highlighting the “legitimacy crisis” in established sources of the chosen subject, does not claim of sole “legitimacy”. We are in a crucial period of Kashmir history wherein we critically look into our past and we are in the process of ‘defining’ and ‘redefining’ certain crucial aspects of Kashmir life, this book definitely makes a profound contribution to this academic-intellectual endeavor. 

Lastupdate on : Mon, 5 Nov 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Mon, 5 Nov 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Tue, 6 Nov 2012 00:00:00 IST

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