Extolled for his pioneering work like ‘Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative’, ‘Kashmir: A Walk Through History’ and ‘Jhelum: The River Through My Backyard’, Khalid Bashir Ahmad is now back with another history text reconstructing the 20th century’s turbulent years of Kashmir.
By Mir Seeneen
AFTER busting medieval myths with his tell-all treatise hailed as an exceptional fact-finder on Kashmir history, the hardy historian has returned with yet another probing paperback.
The 300-odd pager—KASHMIR, Looking Back in Time: Politics, Culture, History—published by Atlantic is recreating Kashmir’s post-1931 phase triggered by a baffling butler and immortalized by the blood of the 20-odd Kashmiris gunned down by the Dogra regime.
That macabre episode set the stage for Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and his politics of appropriateness.
In Khalid Bashir Ahmad’s new book, Abdullah is Don King of “The Rumble in the Jungle?” fame.
Don was America’s most famous hype man—behind the boxing bout between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier—who had notoriously shot dead a robber and stomped an employee to death over a debt.
In Kashmir’s political ring of yore, Abdullah was playing Don King by creating hype around his machismo, swaying beleaguered masses with his rhetoric, and unleashing ire on his opponents.
The man had a say and he made most of it as the frontman in this new history text.
With coming events casting their shadow by mid-thirties, one sees Jawahar Lal Nehru’s troupe making rounds of the valley for rigging ideology. Headquartered at Mujahid Manzil, Abdullah as the face of Muslim Conference would soon get swayed by Congress congregations and change the camp—which had become one of the first groups to resist the regime—into National Conference.
The ‘tall leader’ conveniently sidelined the pioneers of Muslim Conference and would even shrug his miffed better half — the ‘benign begum’ who would salvage his reputation by rescuing the abducted Muslim women of Jammu in the later part of 1940s.
Abdullah ditched friends and hugged fiends, and thus ended up losing his sway as the ‘supreme leader’.
National Conference founder and fountainhead would swear his allegiance to the cruel crown he confronted as the poster boy of ‘Quit Kashmir’ movement. He was appointed as an emergency administrator by Hari Singh on the heels of Partition.
Later, the banished Dogra king would send a distress dispatch to the President of India expressing his bitterness against Abdullah and Delhi’s plot to overthrow him.
That plea to president came from the erstwhile monarch whose Prime Minister, RC Kak—a Kashmiri Pandit—would first raise the call for Independent Jammu and Kashmir, when the Two-Nation Theory was bleeding subcontinent.
Khalid Bashir’s Sheikh Abdullah profile is scientific—carefully bypassing redundancy and rigmarole—just like his previously published account of the world’s least known genocide: Jammu Massacre of 1947.
This former bureaucrat has displayed a gritty researcher’s flair while unearthing archives, tracing witnesses, and making able use of his contacts. Some of these chapters loaded with multiple details and voices remind one of the author’s seminal piece on Kashmiri Pandit migration of 1990.
And that’s the reason why this historical fact-finding is ending many misconceptions and confusions created by media and some shallow scholars, with their out-of-place anecdotes, agenda-driven analysis, partial history reportages, and bent of reproducing historical narratives without proper context.
But as a silent servant of art, Khalid Bashir seems decimating cults and canons, and creating new history consciousness with his exhaustive exploration.
And since most of these recorded events have not been attributed to any dubious chronicler or accidental historian makes this book an objective reading of Kashmir history.
A native of Srinagar and part of system during the most intriguing times of Kashmir politics, Khalid Bashir talks about the holy relic theft, culture of cinema, sports and way of life in the valley.
His chapter on how Kashmiris would embark on the grueling sea-pilgrimage is a revival of the past window.
The chronicler who’s a gutsy explorer at the same time talks about the renaming of places and the rumour republic. Both renaming and rumours stand weaponised in the strife-zone now.
And then there’re canards and conspiracies drawn by the “poet of east” for pleading the case of his oppressed homeland. As bizarre as it may sound, Sir Mohammad Iqbal’s detractors—and the crown apologists—had dismissed his laments and longings for his roots as his bid for prime ministership!
The book talks about the 1939 Kashmiri Pandit agitation against the Dogra crown’s temple custody in Srinagar. To oppose the move tooth and nail, the minority community hit the streets with stone-pelting, sit-ins and seething parades.
There’s a mention of some dubious characters under Dogra regime, broke residency, and the evolution of journalism in Kashmir.
Foreign-educated sovereign, Hari Singh had allowed newspapers in Srinagar previously gagged by his predecessor. Later that mediascape would produce some fiery scribes eventually taking shelter in politics.
But while documentation of Kashmir history is still work in progress, Khalid Bashir’s scientific approach is already provoking a change. With this new book, he has only tried to set the records straight.
KASHMIR, Looking Back in Time, is indeed a story of the loss of intellectual tradition of Kashmir and gradual emptying of its cultural opulence.
- Mir Seeneen is a Srinagar-based scribe whose works have appeared in TRT World, Deccan Herald, and many other publications.
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