Powerful narration of history
Amar Chandel

In Search of a Future: The Story of Kashmir
by David Devadas. Penguin. Pages 381. Rs 495.

Kashmir is one of the most extensively written about topics in the country. However, despite such wealth of published material, it is not one of the easiest subjects to comprehend, for the simple reason that there are far too many strands to the whole development. Miss one and you run the risk of forming a wrong impression about the goings-on.

The trouble is that most analysts tend to focus on a particular time period. While some go back only as far as the 1990s when the terrorism trouble really hit the ceiling, a rare few at best go up to the 1947 Partition. That is quite an improvement, but still not good enough.

David Devadas flies further back in time to get a better bird’s eye-view: to 1931 when Kashmir’s majority community revolted against their maharaja and sharply expressed a Kashmiri Muslim identity. In fact, to get at the real mindset of its populace, he delves right till the 14th century to reach the conclusion that Kashmir has, for the most part, not had nurturing leaders. The last Kashmiri king, Sahadev, fled in 1320 to his father-in-law’s neighbouring kingdom leaving his people to face one of the fiercest assaults of all time—by the Mongol, Dulchu Khan, who left behind utter devastation.

It is such kaleidoscopic changes which have developed the internal dynamics of this heavenly state which has witnessed some distinctly devilish incidents in the recent past.

The most exceptional quality of Devadas book is not just its wide sweep. His talent lies in the fact that he has presented the history in a novel-like format where all characters come alive and you get to read this fascinating history as a fast-unfolding thriller.

Managing this edge-of-seat posture even is a tough proposition in a work of fiction. It becomes near impossible in a real-life drama, because you cannot play with facts. To make various characters three dimensional, you have to know a lot about them, and intimately. Whether they are living ones or are no longer with us, their personal traits, eventhe salient events of their life have to be presented faithfully, since if you deviate from the facts even so very slightly, there will be persons somewhere who will shout blue murder. Devadas succeeds in this endeavour with honours.

He takes a microscopic look at difficulties of a Muslim-majority state ruled by a Hindu maharaja. What comes out in sharp relief is the opportunistic ambivalence of many leaders.

The pace of the narrative becomes truly break-neck by the time one comes to the time of Partition. Reading about the intrigue and confusion prevalent at that time is enough to give one goose pimples. The author presents a chilling account of the messy and fear-filled situation when the raping and looting by the tribesmen left the state traumatised. Balkanisation stared it in the eye.

As he mentions it, Kashmir was designed for a colonial rather than postmodern age. It willy-nilly became the fault line between the subcontinent’s rival models of national identity—open-ended confraternity and mono-cultural, religion-based identity. It seemed as if two tectonic plates were in attrition there.

A similar rivalry was in existence between the National Conference and the Muslim Conference, one mono-ethnic and one mono-religious.

The furious exchanges between India and Pakistan are mentioned in minute details. Ironically, a similar battle of attrition was also on between Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah.

The Chief Minister who came after the towering Sheikh, including his son Farooq, had their own angularities and added to the complications of the knotted state. Events became a catalogue of wasted opportunities.

The breakout of insurgency is tackled in the greatest detail and is the most fascinating part of the book.

The key question, according to the author, in the first decade of the 21st century is: can we live together in harmony so that we may best use the opportunities of unprecedented technologies?

The problem with Kashmir today is that despite education and wealth, it has not transcended its hateful contempt-ridden past. Due to five centuries of frequent chaos, exploitation and repression, the willingness to set aside religious, sectarian, caste, ethnic or even personal interests for the collective good is in tatters.

Fickle ambivalence leaves Kashmir open to remaining a major front for global jihad, as well as the cutting edge of religious and ethnic antagonism within South Asia, he laments.

Despite the murder and mayhem, the author is very optimistic about the future, because of the eagerness of those who were children at the turn of the 21st century to tap into the global economy to win wealth, fame, happiness and security.

The brutalisation of Kashmiris from both sides is forcing the youth to assert their rights with a measure of dignity, absorbing in the heat of violence some humanist values. The direct interaction with the world beyond Kashmir’s mountain walls has also given Kashmiris confidence to interact on equal terms with their rulers and the outside world.

According to him, there are three choices before Kashmir: it could remain part of the war of puritans trying to dominate the globe; it could remain the cutting edge of South Asia’s possible Balkanisation; or it could become the pivot of a new model of inter-community accommodation on equal terms. How one wishes Kashmiris opt for actions which make the last choice a reality!