Fustel de Coulanges says, "Do not applaud me. It is not I who speaks to you, but history which speaks through my mouth." History of Kashmir, an English version of an old Persian chronicle, Tarikh-i-Kashmir by Saiyid 'Ali, is reflective of Professor Abdul Qaiyum Rafiqi's hard labour of piecing together a fragmented historical document; you feel that it is Saiyid Ali speaking through Professor Rafiqi via a language which is so easy and so widely used. By translating the chronicle into English, Professor Rafiqi has brought it out from the archives and made it available to a wider audience the world over. Also, because "only one copy of the work is available", rending it into English, has resurrected it and made it accessible to the present scholarship that cannot otherwise understand and appreciate how Kashmir looked like several centuries ago. "In order to make this vast treasure available to scholars and general educated public, it is necessary to edit and translate it in different languages, especially English…", Professor Rafiqi states while talking about why he decided to translate the old work into a modern language.
The original— Tarikh-i-Kashmir—is about the Sultanate Period of Kashmir from 1339 to 1586, but what makes it a challenging task for any historian is its "abrupt" start that doesn't find its antecedents anywhere in the book. It starts with Sultan Shihabuddin who wasn't the first Sultan of Kashmir; others had ruled Kashmir before him. As a conscientious and objective historian, Professor Rafiqi has brought out this problem to the fore but, at the same time, he has made an attempt to bridge this gap by providing "a brief analysis of the circumstances which led to the establishment of the Sultanate and the evaluation of the rule of the first three Sultans of the Shah-Mir dynasty". Not only that, the translator has made an assessment of the chronicle "in the light of the existing historical literature in order to give the reader a fair knowledge of the history of Kashmir which the work covers". This way, History of Kashmir provides new insights into the glorious past of Kashmir and also makes an objective assessment of the situation—social, political and religious—that existed when this work was written. Professor Rafiqi doesn't mince words in pointing out flaws in the Persian chronicle which is one of the reasons why he had to fill up the gaps through his commentary. The old chronicle, on the one hand, "at times indulges in the glorification and accomplishments of the chosen few and paints their portrait with a brush of hyperbole" and, on the other hand, "some important events are either summarily treated or totally ignored…Besides this, Saiyid 'Ali does not present his narrative systematically or chronologically but is centred upon persons and certain attractive themes of his choice". The translator attributes the discrepancy in chronology to Saiyid 'Ali's failure to "take into account that the lunar year is approximately 11 days shorter than the solar year and has converted the solar based Laukika era into Hijra era which is based on the lunar system". However, Professor Rafiqi is not miserly in calling the Tarikh as "an important source of medieval Kashmir" containing "a[sic] valuable information about many aspects of socio-political and religious life of Kashmir during the Sultanate period".
History of Kashmir contains three main parts divided into 'Introduction-I', 'Introduction-II' and 'English Translation of the Text' with 'End notes', followed by a bibliography of primary and secondary sources (both old and modern).
'Introduction-I' works as a bridge between the given and missing facts in Saiyid Ali's chronicle that was needed for fully appreciating the historical value of the document. As stated above, the chronicle starts abruptly with the rule of Shihabuddin and leaves behind three important rulers of Kashmir—Shamsuddin, Jamshid and Alauddin. Professor Rafiqi has therefore done a commendable work in placing Shihabuddin appropriately in the political history of Kashmir and made us "understand and appreciate the contribution of the Sultans to the political stability and economic and cultural life of the people of the country, and more so to dispel the often repeated misrepresentations and misinterpretations of the historical facts…". Linking Shihabuddin's rule to the earlier Sultans has enabled the translator to comment upon many unknown facts and figures of Kashmir's past that have so far remained hidden from the common eye.
'Introduction-II' is a detailed commentary of the historical value of the Sayid 'Ali's chronicle. As mentioned earlier, Professor Rafiqi finds the chronology of the events described in the books faulty because Shihabuddin was not the first Sultan of Kashmir—"about fifty years had passed since the establishment of Muslim Sultanate there" (p. 27) when Saiyid Ali arrived in Kashmir. This chapter, like the earlier one, also provides missing links before bringing out the value of the chronicle. Like me, many readers might find it repetitive of 'Introduction-I' but it seems that Professor Rafiqi wanted to convince us that unless certain rejoinders are put in place, the real value of the Tarikh could not be established! As we are told, in the beginning of his work, that "the Tahrikh is an important source for understanding the history of the spread of Islam in Kashmir, which the contemporary Sanskrit chronicles have either deliberately ignored or presented with some distortions", Professor Rafiqi has found value in it for helping "to understand the important role which the Sufis, especially the Kubravis, played in the Islamization of Kashmir and how the Kashmiris responded to the call of Islam" (p. 83).
I won't be exaggerating if I say that in translating the chronicle, Professor Rafiqi has rewritten Kashmir's past history by carefully analyzing an old document and filling the missing links by invoking his tremendous knowledge of and insight into the subject. The book is written in simple but lucid style. Especially, the translation of the original text manifests the translator's command over the Source and the Target languages that is very essential for any translator. While presenting the facts, Professor Rafiqi has taken care not to use stale and outdated language. However, in works of this kind, presenting the original words like bandh, dambel maet, khanqahs, warin etc in English transliteration becomes inevitable since these are culture-bound expressions and have no equivalents in English. Professor Rafiqi manifests good command over English. However, at many place punctuation marks have been wrongly used or not used at all—for want of space it is not possible to analyse them. The book has a well-designed jacket and a hard cover that match with the theme of the book. Its printing is good and appealing to the eyes. I am sure this translation will go a long way in setting the otherwise distorted historical records of Kashmir right.
Professor Mohammad Aslam teaches at the English Department, University of Kashmir