Re-engaging With History

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Congress set up a committee to read Prof Saifuddin Soz’s book as its release triggered a sort of crisis on TV over Patel’s Kashmir remarks. Insisting that book takes a long course to get Kashmir a historically distinct identity, Shabir Ahmad Mir sees the well-informed politician reveals little than what he seemingly knows

The problem with history– particularly the written kind – is that one can never be sure about it. Not only because history is one of the spoils that a Victor claims but also, more often than not, a historian has to wield the irrationality, abstrusity

as well as the randomness of his time and milieu into a cogent and comprehensible narrative that can be passed on as history to the posterity. Thus more than writing/recording history a historian ends up creating History (in a completely literal sense of the word). The whole process is akin to forcing water into a container and then passes of the shape of the container as the shape of water. Nevertheless, a historian must keep on doing his duty only if to have his work argued/ debated/ questioned/revisited later.

Off late Kashmir is also witnessing a re-engagement with its history. What was once considered as holy canon is now being examined for its veracity and verifiability? Against this backdrop comes Prof Saifuddin Soz’s Kashmir: Glimpses of History and The Story of the Struggle. Although the book is spread over 33 chapters it can be broadly divided into two parts. The first part comprises first 27 chapters of the book and the second part comprising of the remaining six chapters. This division is based on the degree and nature of involvement of author with his subject matter. The first part deals with the recapitulation of Kashmir’s history from various sources that have been passed on from generation to generation. These sources include testimonials /books /travelogues /papers as written from time to time by such varied persons like Herodotus, Ptolemy, Fa Hien, Hiuen Tsiang, al Beruni, Kalhana, Bernier, Jacquemont, Hugel, Stein, Temple, Thorpe, Bates, Wakefield, Walter Lawrence, Neveetc wherein Soz is a mere passive narrator. Professor Soz does not engage with these sources of his as Khalid Bashir does in his Kashmir: Exposing the Myth Behind the Narrative. That is to say unlike Khalid Bashir, Soz does not offer a critical reading of the texts and authors that he uses to construct the history of Kashmir, he merely summarizes these narratives with an occasional personal insight or remark.

But then Soz’s book is not about challenging the dominant narrative of our history nor is it a re-engagement with our history. His book is about building a case for Kashmir Problem and its subsequent resolution by placing the whole problem in a proper context. And he uses these 27 chapters to his purpose in an admirably subtle way. By using such a variegated compendium of histories /narratives he builds up the distinct and separate historical identity of Kashmir and places Kashmir firmly as a separate historical-political entity in the sub-continent.

One may or may not agree with, say, the factual veracity of Ptolemy’s Kasperia as Kashmir or Kalhana’s objectivity and rationality in his description of royal reigns or Marco Polo’s curious comments about Kashmir or Hugel’s / Temple’s assessment of the Kashmiri national character and /or Thorpe’s / Lawrence’s rebuttal of such an assessment; such an agreement or disagreement is not the point here. The point is such records invest a separate and distinct historical-political identity to a geographical location called Kashmir which in itself is a sharp rebuttal to the various votaries of ‘jugular vein’ and ‘integral part’ braggadocio.

The second part of the book comprising of the last six chapters deals with the history of Kashmir from the struggle against Dogra aristocracy up to the recent efforts at resolving the Kashmir dispute by India and Pakistan. This portion is where the Professor involves himself on a more personal level as this is where he has access directly to the source of history either by being a witness himself or having first-hand information from the principal characters that shaped up this recent history of Kashmir.

Unfortunately, this is also the portion where Professor lets his readers down. After all, he is a man whose single vote brought down a government and a man who has for decades walked up and down the corridors of power; it is expected that such a man would be privy to such information that can add a new perspective to the history of recent past.

But Soz reveals nothing of the sorts, at least nothing that is not already known publicly or privately. Even the roadmap that he provides for a possible way out of the Kashmir imbroglio is but the famous Musharaf’s four-point formula (aka Musharraf-Vajyapee-Manmohan Formula) contextualized in a Kashmiri perspective. Although it must be said that Soz’s involvement with his text is more active in these chapters as compared to the previous 27 chapters. The only exception to such a reading is Soz’s treatment of Sheikh Mohamed Abdullah vis a vis Kashmir’s accession to India. If one lets the Professor convince him/her, one might see Sheikh Abdullah in a different light. Not necessarily in a more positive or more negative light but a different light.

To me, Professor’s book is one more lucid addition to the growing list of Kashmir’s re-engagement with its history. Let us hope, he writes his autobiography now.

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