Fixing the gaze on Kashmir

After Kashmir landed into worst crisis during 1990s many among the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, despite their unending agony took to writing poetry and texts expressing their feelings, perceptions, ideas, and understanding for recoding their version in history. It was in this context that Ashok Dhar, whose basic profession is rooted in energy sector, produced an excellent book titled Kashmir As I see it: From within and afar published by Rupa in 2019. As the title suggests this interesting book puts forward the personal observations through anecdotes and enmeshes them with history and politics from earlier period down to our contemporary times.

There is much merit in Ashok Dhar’s arguments when he contextualizes Kashmiriyat, Shaivism and Sufism. One substantive expression of all these aspects is illustrated on page 4 when he says, ‘Even today I remember the soothing aarti (Om Jai jagdish Hare) at the temple and azan recital of the Takbir from the mosque. It was common thing for Kashmiri pandits (Hindus) and Muslims to meet at a shop serving Halal meat after offering Prayers. Such was our life while growing up in Kashmir, full of stories of religious tolerance and cultural amalgamation.’’ In building such arguments there is overwhelming layering of evidence which this book reflects from the ideas of author. It certainly indicates the high level of scholarship because the way author has gently avoided many controversial issues.

Dhar has discussed many aspects diligently recollecting anecdotes that have close relationship with various patches of Kashmir politics, history, religiosity and culture as they changed and developed over time. All these details are logically ordered in a cohesive unit that makes the book easier for a non Kashmiri reader to situate Kashmir in totality. Every statement has the great merit of taking a wide view of the main subject and providing a gained insight from one’s own perspective. One such example is at page 98 where the author says, ‘‘Maharaja Hari Singh did not trust British, and they, too, had no love for him. When Lord Mountbatten visited Kashmir as Viceroy to persuade him to make up his mind before 15th August 1947, Hari Singh sent him to Thricker, near Pahalgam in Kashmir, on a fishing trip. He was supposed to have brought him assurance from Indian leaders that they would not take any objection to whatever decision the maharaja would take, including accession to Pakistan. The Maharaja did not trust the Viceroy The latter made good use of his time at Thricker for fishing.’’ Such organization of facts and the meticulous focus on broader detail makes the study very valuable in a more systematic fashion.

There is much to admire in the book as it is a gift for cogently explaining how shifts in larger society could affect mundane individual lives of people and their circumstances. Every detail connecting ancient to medieval and then to modern and contemporary period is documented with enthusiasm, superb comprehension and integration of every detail in Kashmiri society. One such nuanced piece of narrative reads at page 140-41 as, “After the persecution of Kashmiri pandits during the reign of Sikandar, who forcefully converted them to Islam, dissatisfaction of the Muslims and Pandits occupying government Jobs again surfaced in violent demonstration in 1931.This has been a constant source of resentment among Muslims over the centuries. Kashmiri Pandits have always pursued education to gain government employment as teachers in the administration, unlike Muslims, who were engaged in Agriculture, horticulture, handicrafts, Shawl making, hospitality and other service sector business. The pandits were quick to master whatever became the official language of the rulers-Sanskrit during Hindu rule, Persian during Mughal rule and Afghan rule and Urdu and English during Sikh and Dogra rules, respectively.’’ The author deserves great credit for advancing our knowledge through such important details and his personal encounters with various interesting situations that constituted an integral part of the larger scheme facilitating the ongoing Kashmir crisis.

Even though at times the reading of this book reveals that appreciation is hindered by over compressed style of author, may be because of limitations of space and time but despite its acceptance by the author at the outset Ashok Dhar has written probing ,painstaking and pioneering volume with sophisticated analysis.. The book makes an important contribution to our knowledge of Kashmir and its exposition and generalizations are firmly based on historical detail with scholarly treatment. It further provides a facilitation of typologies for studying Kashmir or any other regional problems.

The most attractive feature of Dhar’s book is certainly the selection of small themes and their interpretation with more ambitious and feasible observations. He draws on a wide variety of materials and provides insightful study that can be read with enjoyment and illuminating connections between the events described and the society in which they took place.

Professor Rattan Lal Hangloo is Vice –Chancellor, Central University of Allahabad, Prayagraj Uttar Pradesh.