It is an unruffled neighbourhood in plush Sanat Nagar locality of uptown Srinagar. In one of the secluded houses, Ghulam Nabi Khayal, 75, a known literary figure is running his pen to author 29th book of his life, My Story My Kashmir. There are scores of awards, certificates and portraits in his room that add scholarly airs in the ambiance.
In his six decades of stark political observation, Khayal has witnessed it all: from Sheikh’s arrest in 1953 to the rise of Bakshi era. Apart from being witness to contemporary history of Kashmir, he continued his journalistic and literary pursuits. A recipient of Sahitya Akademi Award for Kashmiri book Gaashiry Munaar in 1975, Khayal is the script and screenplay writer of the most popular TV serial titled Shab Rang which was telecast from Srinagar Television Centre regularly for two years between 1981 and 1983.
Living presently with his non-local domestic help, Khayal’s both sons are computer engineers based in Dubai. His only daughter, a doctor by profession, is settled in United States, while his retired government teacher wife spends most of her time with her children.
In a conversation with Bilal Handoo, Ghulam Nabi Khayal talks about his life, journalistic career and landmarks in the contemporary Kashmir history.
Kashmir Life (KL): Let’s talk about your early phase of life?
Ghulam Nabi Khayal (GNK): I was born in old Srinagar’s Hawal locality on March 4, 1939. After completing my class 10 from Islamia High School, Rajouri Kadal, I visited Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad for a job. As the prime minister of state, he would hold public durbars on every Friday where he would resolve public grievances in a jiffy. When I asked him about a job, he told me: “You are a very tall boy. You should go to police. I will give you a sub-inspector’s post right now.” But back home, I faced a protesting family who didn’t allow me to join the service, which was looked down upon those days.
Meanwhile I got selected in Radio Kashmir as a news reader. Then one day in January 1958, I went to Srinagar’s Jamia Masjid to listen a pro-Abdullah seminar. To conceal my identity, I masked up my face, but still I was spotted by CID men. Later, I was arrested for being pro-Abdullah supporter and awarded two years jail term. I wasn’t Sheikh’s supporter, but those two years proved a blessing in disguise for me. I completed my graduation, learned Persian and translated Omar Khayyam’s Persian poetry into Kashmiri in jail.
KL: And what happened after you came out of jail?
GNK: After my release, I went to meet Bakshi Sahab. “I have heard that you have translated Omar Khayyam’s poetry into Kashmiri. He is my favourite poet. Publish your book and give me one copy,” Bakshi Sahab told me. “But sir,” I replied, “I have just come out of the jail. I don’t have a single penny in my pocket.” He didn’t tell me anything. As I walked out, I saw Bakshi Sahab’s private secretary, RC Raina, who enquired: “How was your meeting?” I replied that it was very positive. Raina then handed over an envelope to me, saying: “This is for you.” As I stepped back on street, I tore open the envelope and found Rs 500 inside it. I understood that Bakshi Sahab had given me the amount for publication of my book. Later I gave him a copy of my published book, which made him very happy.
In between, I completed my masters and joined state cultural academy as its publication in-charge. But I grew disillusioned and left the job. Luckily I had developed good contacts with Moulana Masoodi, who was associated with Plebiscite Front. It was 1964 and Sheikh Abdullah was released from the jail. He started a paper, Mahaaz. I was appointed its editor on the recommendation of Moulana Masoodi. But after one year, the then chief minister of state, Ghulam Mohammad Sadiq banned 12 publications including Mahaaz. So I again became jobless.
I then started my own Kashmiri paper Watan and then Urdu daily, Iqbal. But in 1977, I shifted to English journalism. I was the first correspondent of India Today from valley, and have also worked for international publications like Time Magazine. As a stringer, I also worked for Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Times, The Guardian, Voice of America, German Radio and Pakistan Television.
KL: What major political happenings were going on in valley after Sheikh Abdullah was released?
GNK: Frequent skirmishes were going on between the supporters of Plebiscite Front and Mirwaiz Farooq. This motivated Prof Rehman Rahi, me and one Prof Yousuf to set up a peace mission under the guidance of Moulana Masoodi. We went to meet Moulvi Farooq who was barely 19-year-old then. His uncle Moulvi Mohammad Shah spoke on his nephew’s behalf: “If given a respectable position, then Mirwaiz Farooq will join the Plebiscite Front.” We took the proposal and met Sheikh Abdullah at Mujahid Manzil, who said: “I have no objection. But this is to be decided by Mohammad Afzal Beg who is president of the front.”
But Afzal Sahab gave us a cold response. He thought if Mirwaiz Farooq joined Plebiscite Front, he might get sidelined. And then he quite sarcastically responded: “Alright, let Moulvi Sahab join the front, we will make him the Halqa president of Rajouri Kadal.” We were disgusted with his remark. Beg’s true colours were ominous now. And the next day, Moulvi Farooq in protest announced the formation of his party Awami Action Committee in Srinagar’s Iqbal Park.
KL: Which incidents according to you flipped the contemporary history of Kashmir?
GNK: Sheikh Abdullah’s arrest in 1953 flipped the Kashmir discourse quite drastically. His arrest was the conspiracy hatched by Dr Karan Singh, Jawahar Lal Nehru and DP Dhar. Bakshi Sahab who replaced him as the premier of the state wasn’t ready for the change of guards. In fact, he wept when he heard that Sheikh Abdullah had been arrested. He refused to step into Sheikh’s shoes because a few days before at Mujahid Manzil, he had asserted: “Sher-e-Kashmir [Sheikh Abdullah], you are my sixth pillar of Islam!” But he was threatened by New Delhi: “If you won’t accept prime ministership, then you will also meet the Sheikh Abdullah’s fate.” For me, the incident changed the course of our history.
And then, the episode of 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah betrayed his own people appeared a last nail in the coffin. You see, for 22 years, he led people through Plebiscite Movement. But when he landed in the lap of Indira Gandhi in February 1975; that to my mind changed the course of our history…
KL: But what motivated him to shake hands with the daughter of the man who betrayed him, toppled his regime and got him arrested in 1953?
GNK: Well, there were two things which motivated him to do what many termed unthinkable. First, the fall of Dhaka on December 16, 1971 made him jittery. I have heard people saying that the incident made him think that if India can oust Pakistan from its own territory, then the same nation can never easily leave us alone. And second reason was, maybe, he was told by his family: “Why are you wasting your time as well as ours? We too have a future. Look how Bakshi family has prospered?” Maybe, he succumbed to the family pressure.
KL: The theft of holy relic happened in your lifetime. There are so many theories which only create smokescreen about the incident. What exactly happened in the winter of 1963?
GNK: What I know is: Moulana Masoodi was heading the holy relic movement in the state. There was so much of confusion about the incident. You know, they first raised the slogan: Restore the holy relics and punish the culprits. And then, the slogan changed: Release Sheikh Abdullah. The relic which was reported disappeared on December 26, 1963 was recovered on January 4, 1964. After some time, the government announced: “We have arrested three culprits in connection with the theft of the holy relics.” But what happened, nobody knows, except there were some rumours.
KL: What can one conclude from the dramatic change of slogans during the holy relic movement?
GNK: Look, three months after the holy relics was restored, the state government dropped Sheikh Abdullah’s all charges in the so-called “Kashmir Conspiracy Case” and he was set free on April 8, 1964.
But what happened after his release indeed turned many eye balls around. During a public meeting in Ganderbal one day, Sheikh Abdullah termed Moulana Masoodi as IB agent in front of everyone. Moulana was also present in the meeting. When he tried to clarify his stand, he was barred from speaking and was pushed away by Sheikh Abdullah. Maybe, skeleton had started tumbling out of their cupboards. Mind you, he was the same Moulana Masoodi who was at forefront demanding Sheikh’s release from the jail.
KL: It is said that you had sniffed life threat to Mirwaiz Farooq beforehand. Tell us something about it.
GNK: You see in April 1990, I was in Pakistan visiting my relatives there. I saw some newspapers of particular ideologue spitting venom against Moulvi Farooq, calling him “Indian agent” and “traitor”. I collected some clippings and returned to the valley. I was very close to Moulvi Farooq. He was a great man. I rang him up and told him: “Moulvi Sahab, please take care of yourself.” My call alerted him. We later met at his residence to discuss things clearly. I informed him that some people are busy hatching conspiracy against him. But he didn’t make much out of it.
On second week of May that year, I again met him at his Nigeen residence. He was sitting in his office adjacent to his residence. I told him: “I have a hunch that something very bad is going to happen.” Now, he demanded me to come clear on the point. “Look, I saw venomous published reports in certain Pakistani journals against you,” I informed him.
In between, his telephone rang up. He picked up the telephone and soon I heard Moulvi Sahab arguing with the voice from the other side of the phone: “No, no. I can’t accept the security. Do you mean to say that you are going to subject the visitors to my home to security? No, no. I can’t accept it…” And then, he hung up the phone. He told me that the caller was Azhar Nomani, then additional DIG police. “He was telling me that government has some inputs on the possible attack on me and want to put me under security cover,” Moulvi Sahab told me. “You must accept the security cover, but I know you won’t agree,” I told him. And exactly one week later, he was shot dead in the same room.
KL: In 1996, your residence was attacked by some unknown gunmen. Who were behind the attack?
GNK: In March 1996, three men showed up in my lawn. They had jumped over the fence. “Come with us, we have news for you,” they said. I shot back: “Just pass your news on my phone.” As I raised a pitch in my voice, my neighbours appeared on their windows and doors. Sensing danger, the trio jumped again over the fence and started firing at my residence from the alley outside. They also hurled grenade, which exploded at the backyard.
As I joined the dots, I came to know that government wasn’t happy with my reports for PTV. My source in security informed me that a meeting was called where it was decided that “I should be taught some lessons”. I then flew to Delhi to meet Madhukar Gupta, the then joint secretary of Kashmir Affairs. Gupta wanted to meet me for some time. He insisted me to leave PTV as my reports “frustrate troops stationed in valley”. I didn’t give up and took my family to New Delhi for one year. In my absence, my relatives informed me, that another grenade was lobbed in the lawn of my house. And then, I decided to quit reporting for PTV for the safety of my dear ones. And currently I am working on my latest book.