Fixing the gaze on Kashmir

Personal observations enmeshed with history and politics from the earlier period down to contemporary times
Title: Kashmir as I see it: From within and afar
Author: Ashok Dhar
Publisher: Rupa, Delhi
Fixing the gaze on Kashmir
Title: Kashmir as I see it: From within and afar Author: Ashok Dhar Publisher: Rupa, Delhi Fixing the gaze on Kashmir

After Kashmir landed into worst crisis during 1990s manyamong the displaced Kashmiri Pandits, despite their unending agony took towriting poetry and texts expressing their feelings, perceptions, ideas, andunderstanding for recoding their version in history. It was in this contextthat Ashok Dhar, whose basic profession is rooted in energy sector, produced anexcellent book titled Kashmir As I see it: From within and afar published byRupa in 2019. As the title suggests this interesting book puts forward thepersonal observations through anecdotes and enmeshes them with history andpolitics from earlier period down to our contemporary times.

There is much merit in Ashok Dhar's arguments when hecontextualizes Kashmiriyat, Shaivism and Sufism. One substantive expression ofall these aspects is illustrated on page 4 when he says, 'Even today I rememberthe soothing aarti (Om Jai jagdish Hare) at the temple and azan recital of theTakbir from the mosque. It was common thing for Kashmiri pandits (Hindus) andMuslims to meet at a shop serving Halal meat after offering Prayers. Such wasour life while growing up in Kashmir, full of stories of religious toleranceand cultural amalgamation.'' In building such arguments there is overwhelminglayering of evidence which this book reflects from the ideas of author. It certainlyindicates the high level of scholarship because the way author has gentlyavoided many controversial issues.

Dhar has discussed many aspects diligently recollectinganecdotes that have close relationship with various patches of Kashmirpolitics, history, religiosity and culture as they changed and developed overtime. All these details are logically ordered in a cohesive unit that makes thebook easier for a non Kashmiri reader to situate Kashmir in totality. Everystatement has the great merit of taking a wide view of the main subject andproviding a gained insight from one's own perspective. One such example is atpage 98 where the author says, ''Maharaja Hari Singh did not trust British, andthey, too, had no love for him. When Lord Mountbatten visited Kashmir asViceroy to persuade him to make up his mind before 15th August 1947, Hari Singhsent him to Thricker, near Pahalgam in Kashmir, on a fishing trip. He wassupposed to have brought him assurance from Indian leaders that they would nottake any objection to whatever decision the maharaja would take, includingaccession to Pakistan. The Maharaja did not trust the Viceroy The latter madegood use of his time at Thricker for fishing.'' Such organization of facts andthe meticulous focus on broader detail makes the study very valuable in a moresystematic fashion.

There is much to admire in the book as it is a gift forcogently explaining how shifts in larger society could affect mundaneindividual lives of people and their circumstances. Every detail connectingancient to medieval and then to modern and contemporary period is documentedwith enthusiasm, superb comprehension and integration of every detail inKashmiri society. One such nuanced piece of narrative reads at page 140-41 as,"After the persecution of Kashmiri pandits during the reign of Sikandar, whoforcefully converted them to Islam, dissatisfaction of the Muslims and Panditsoccupying government Jobs again surfaced in violent demonstration in 1931.Thishas been a constant source of resentment among Muslims over the centuries.Kashmiri Pandits have always pursued education to gain government employment asteachers in the administration, unlike Muslims, who were engaged inAgriculture, horticulture, handicrafts, Shawl making, hospitality and otherservice sector business. The pandits were quick to master whatever became theofficial language of the rulers-Sanskrit during Hindu rule, Persian duringMughal rule and Afghan rule and Urdu and English during Sikh and Dogra rules,respectively.'' The author deserves great credit for advancing our knowledgethrough such important details and his personal encounters with variousinteresting situations that constituted an integral part of the larger schemefacilitating the ongoing Kashmir crisis.

Even though at times the reading of this book reveals thatappreciation is hindered by over compressed style of author, may be because oflimitations of space and time but despite its acceptance by the author at theoutset Ashok Dhar has written probing ,painstaking and pioneering volume withsophisticated analysis.. The book makes an important contribution to ourknowledge of Kashmir and its exposition and generalizations are firmly based onhistorical detail with scholarly treatment. It further provides a facilitationof typologies for studying Kashmir or any other regional problems.

The most attractive feature of Dhar's book is certainly theselection of small themes and their interpretation with more ambitious andfeasible observations. He draws on a wide variety of materials and providesinsightful study that can be read with enjoyment and illuminating connectionsbetween the events described and the society in which they took place.

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

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