Unravelling the politics of identity
Reviewed by Randeep Wadehra

Identity Politics in Jammu and Kashmir 
ed by Rekha Chowdhary.
Vitasta. Pages: x+470. Rs. 695

Like every state and region in India, J&K, too, is stratified on the basis of caste, religion, ethnicity etc. The reorganisation of states on the basis of language had ensured that the citizens’ natural aspiration for identity/sub-national-identity would be fulfilled. To a substantial extent, this proved to be the case. However, J&K remained an exception. The fact that it is a border state, with huge chunks of its territory occupied by Pakistan, only exacerbates the identity issues. Religion is a dominant factor in its quest for identity; however, the more than five thousand years old Kashmiri identity – which has remained largely intact even after the advent of Islam – has been asserting itself frequently. One of the prime examples of this is given by Balraj Puri, when he mentions how Kashmiri Pundits, at one stage, had campaigned for Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan! And they were not the only ones; even the CPI was against Kashmir’s merger with India. True, later developments changed the scenario dramatically. But the undercurrents of Kashmiriyat remained strong.

While going through these well-informed essays one learns how various regional and sub-regional identities emanating from diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic groups have come to complicate the identity politics in the state. This, in turn, has impacted various developmental and administrative structures in a big way.

This collection of essays is worth your bookshelf if you are a research scholar, journalist or a student of the subcontinent’s politics.

Jap Ji: A perspective
by Dr. T. R. Shangari

Radha Soami Satsang, Beas. Pages: x+530.
Price: not mentioned

Composed by Guru Nanak Dev, Japji, which appears at the very beginning of the Adi Granth, is considered as the most important set of verses comprising the Mool Mantra (which concisely summarises the three key elements which are indispensable for the soul in its quest for fulfillment in God, viz., faith in one God as sole Reality; meditation on the Name, the sole truth; and the Guru whose grace makes it possible for the devotee to realize God) followed by thirty eight hymns with a concluding shloka. The author avers that while compiling the Adi Granth, Guru Arjan Dev considered the Mool Mantra so significant as to make it the opening thought on which the entire structure of the Adi Granth was built.

Written in impeccable English, this tome – which cites relevant examples from other religions and cultures – is the best elucidation of Japji Sahib so far.



Dust, Dusk & Sesame seeds
by Siddhartha Choudhary
Frog. Pages: 132. Rs. 145

This novella is set in a picturesque village, Basera, located at the foothills of the Sahyadri ranges. Here, Saloni runs a school where Kancha, Babua etc study. There is a bit of rich-girl-poor-boy friendship thrown in too. The story dwells upon the manner in which different characters evolve.

Books should be able to make us laugh, cry and/or think. They are expected to satisfy a writer’s creative urge as much as whet a reader’s appetite for quality read that is entertaining, thought-provoking, cathartic or, at least, amusing. Unfortunately, this book is, despite the author’s best intentions, unable to measure up to any of the readability paradigms. The prose is stilted, the plot unimaginative, predictable and ordinary and the characterization is inept. There is an obvious lack of editorial support here. For instance, take this description on page 29, "The calm evening breeze was hitting Babua’s face. It was bringing the scent of the ocean. The evening breeze was bringing with itself change."

Such narratives remind one of the late British statesman Arthur Balfour’s words, "He has only half learned the art of reading who has not added to it the even more refined accomplishments of skipping and skimming."