Friday, 5 December 2014

Revisiting the Life and the Work

How much do leaders matter in the great march of history and do we understand inexorable logic of history
Martin Buber has a great passage that explains who ultimately counts in history. He includes more than leaders or politicians, unknown devoted workers who silently but faithfully pursue their assigned jobs.  Today I recall one such devoted unassuming teacher-translator Prof. Amin who taught generations English literature. I keep recalling his statement that he didn’t pursue PhD and become professor as he thought himself not upto the task of writing a good or original thesis. This humility coupled with his acknowledged mastery of the subject he taught is so rare in the days when many professors vie with one another on the number of papers and books they have authored for reasons we can guess and of a quality one hardly needs to guess.  Amin Sahib has primarily focused on translations and his latest work is translation of famous Aatish-e-Chinar, a work whose author’s legacy evokes strong reactions both for and against. Kashmir tragic story – its divided self – can be gleaned from this polarization with regard to Sheikh Abdullah, better known as Sheri Kashmir. One can’t uncritically read the work that, on first glimpse, invites criticism on a host of grounds (some of them highlighted by diverse scholars including Dr Ahad and G. N Gowhar, to take two very recent examples only, who have deconstructed some key claims of the text) but I feel hardly any problem with the translation that succeeds in even improving on the original as the latter has been occasionally marred by overplaying of metaphors. However, as we can see even in title translations, the language is not always easily accessible. However, generally speaking, it is both simple and lucid. We can’t bypass either the author or the book that presents an insider’s version of modern political biography of Kashmir. A few remarks on the Aatish-e-Chinar and its author.
I am not an historian but a victim of history struggling to understand my predicament of living in a place that others call paradise but its inhabitants have felt as hell, not just for last two and a half decades but for many decades for many more conscious denizens. One of the most important questions all of us are required to answer concerns why we are what we are in this particular moment in history. In our context it could be phrased as why is Kashmir still struggling to resolve basic question of political identity, why don’t we have any heroes whom all Kashmiris (or vast majority of its people) could proudly identify with, why we are still complaining about past and new leaders of almost all hues, why we can’t cheer for either Indian or Pakistani team (without troubling conscience or other fellow Kashmiris who may have different understanding or perception) and why in this big and beautiful world of God Kashmiris feel homeless, voiceless and directionless?
Once dismissed as puny shahruk mashter (Srinagar’s teacher) by some feudal lords of Kashmir, Sheri Kashmir’s rise can’t be attributed to conspiracies. He does emerge, in the first phase of his career that culminated in his struggle for a cause for which his party now persecutes others, as the voice of (most) people of Kashmir. Who can afford to ignore that we all owe a great deal to Sheri Kashmir. If today class divisions are not as marked as in rest of the subcontinent, especially Pakistan, it is because of his land reforms. The facts that an average Kashmiri is not so poor as an average Indian and that we are better educated can’t be explained without his historical role. He helped us jump by almost a century through land and other reforms. However, if our political destiny has been so chequered and littered by enormous tragedies, bloodshed, corruption, if we are still searching for our collective soul or spirit, if our deepest aspirations, dreams, resources and full potential of Kashmiri genius are yet to be realized, he can’t be fully exonerated. But the question is how much do leaders matter in the great march of history and do we understand inexorable logic of history, of forces bigger than ( and determinative of) any leader’s vision or dream.  (I side with Tolstoy who illustrated in War and Peace and argued in its epilogue how leaders are more led than lead, as against Carlyle who argues for determinative role of heroes.) Volumes have been written for and against Sheri-Kashmir but very little of substance that tackles the more basic question of what it means to be a leader in a world that rules by brute force politicians call power or national interests, by inhuman ideologies like market fundamentalism,  where feudalism and slavery have gone only to be replaced by more inhuman capitalism and slavery of soul (“souls on hire,” I keep recalling Dostovesky) and alienated labour. 
Authoritarian, rash, ambitious, bold, admired (seen both as saviour and saint once by many), reviled, appropriated and misappropriated by all kinds of ideologues, idealist in heart and pragmatist in action, Indian to the core for Kashmir’s sake, partly responsible for perpetuating family rule, betrayed by close aides, pushed to the wall by the might and shrewd planning of Indian state, great dreamer, a politician who brought Kashmir to India against the wishes of vast majority of people but who sacrificed much to get modicum of autonomy to the State, insightful critic of two nation theory (that only divided Muslims as Mawlana Azad perceived) and feudalist character of “Islamic” State of Pakistan, terribly suffered for his convictions and strong enough to resist great temptations, at least in early phase ( such as accepting full integration with India by relinquishing autonomy proposal) and convinced that he had a vision and a destiny to shape, “The Lion of Kashmir” contained multitudes, fought battles that he later disowned, lost Kashmir to India rather than gained India for Kashmir and illustrates in his dreams, aspirations, contradictions, failures and successes Kashmir’s tragedy and terrible beauty, contradictory forces in international politics, blunders of Pakistani leadership, Machiavellian character of nationalistic project, conquest of the souls and wills of the commoners by the power of Capital, a colossal human tragedy that cries for justice. The point is not to redeem or convict Sheikh M Abdullah but to revisit his life and work to take some lessons home so that we stand up to the challenge that confronts us today – the challenge of lost moral credibility for Indian and international leadership, sighs from the otherworld of countless Kashmiris from 30s till date that suffered or died for a vision and a dream and surviving with dignity in a world that has surrendered all autonomy to the forces of globalization – consumerism, development myth, – a world where such notions as India or Pakistan or being pro-India or pro-Pakistan or East and West appear as abstractions that have lost content if not relevance as symbolic gestures, a world where souls and environment, neighbours, relatives and friends all seem to be forgotten or abandoned.
Postscript: Some books are to be read with all humility to learn from the author (especially if he is a saint like Eckhart or a poet like Holderlin or Lal Ded) and some to be read with caution or better deconstructively (especially if written by politicians) who have an ideology to sell. I illustrate by noting that  Chinar signifies breeze, shade, cover, strength, grace, beauty. Aatish symbolizes passion. Now let us ask if Sheri- Kashmir’s legacy has turned out to be these things. There is little glow or glory or passion, especially in later Shaikh and his family. Isn’t it more a case of burnt Chinar, not glowing Chinar? And did he die as our Sheri-Kashmir or as caged or wounded and muted lion who couldn’t even roar as he saw history or fate or trap against him? I think our, truly ours, Sheri-Kashmir is still struggling to be born or listened to. So far only fragmentary images of him have we seen and hope we prepare for the birth of our Alamdar in political sphere.

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