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I am happy to highlight a book sent to me by the National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Authored by the historian and archaeologistShaikh Khurshid Hasan this carefully researched book, illustrated with several photographs and drawings, is titled Religious Architecture of Gandhara – Pakistan: Buddhist Stupas and Monasteries (ISBN: 978-969-415-096-3). It is, I state without hesitation, a masterpiece. And further, the published price is a joke. Only a thousand Pakistan Rupees in Pakistan, only fifteen hundred rupees in the SAARC countries and only US $20 in the USA. This book could easily sell for £25 in the United Kingdom.
The heavy tome, a hardback in large format, details the history of Buddhism in Gandhara (now a part of Pakistan), Afghanistan, the Swat Valley, Sindh and other regions far and wide. Attention is also given to the Kushans and the Hindu Shahi kings of the region. Pakistan’s intellectuals and academics, in spite of the surge of Islamic fundamentalism in their country, have not forgotten the greatness of their pre-Islamic past. Allama Iqbal, the National Poet of Pakistan, proclaimed with pride his Kashmiri Brahmin ancestry. I salute them.
Professor Brinsley Samaroo, of Indian origin, is a well known author in the West Indies. He once served as a minister in the government of Trinidad and Tobago. His latest book The Price of Conscience (Hansib, London. ISBN. 978-1-910553-04-6. £9.99) records the life of an unusual Englishman, actually a Cornishman, named Howard Noel Nankivell who was born in the West Indies. His father and forebears were British sailors who officered Royal Naval ships when Britain ruled the waves.
The young Howard Nankivell managed to get a scholarship to Christ’s Hospital, an ancient school founded by Edward VI, the son of Henry VIII. I know the school well since my son Marcus Iqbal Ravi won an open scholarship there. The school produced the likes of Coleridge, Leigh Hunt, Charles Lamb and Sir Barnes Wallis, the inventor of the ‘Bouncing Bomb’ of World War II fame. However, though Nankivell excelled at the Royal Mathematical School in Christ’s Hospital. he was deemed medically unfit for a commission in the Royal Navy. He had a problem with his eyes. Hence he was given a clerkship in the Colonial Office and was posted to the West Indies.
There Nankivell observed the blatant racism of British imperialism and, though a member of the white ruling Establishment, did his best to make amends. This attitude was punished by the British sugar cane planters. He was demoted and humiliated.Samaroo’s book celebrates a great white man.
My last piece on Shri Modi and his Ilk has caused quite an uproar. I detect that some of my best friends in India who were till recently decent-minded secularists have quickly changed sides. Their hero now is Modi, the former tea-vendor, who now leads the ‘world’s largest democracy’. The leading question is: Will Modi expunge Article 370 from the Indian Constitution which gives Kashmir special status in the Indian Union? Modi is under severe pressure from the Hindutva Sangh Parivar to do so ASAP.
But to history, Sheikh Abdullah, known as Sher-e-Kashmir (Lion of Kashmir) founded an organistion in 1932 called the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim Conference which fought for a representative assembly in Kashmir. Because Abdullah was emotionally and politically close to Nehru (a secular Kashmiri Pandit of the Kaul caste) he changed the name of his organisation to the J & K National Conference. Thus many Kashmiri Pandits joined his organisation. The degenerate Hari Singh still thought (even after August 1947) that he could do a deal with the British. He hoped that his state could become an independent Dominion such as Canada. But Mountbatten turned him down.
Nyla Ali Khan, a faculty member of the University of Oklahoma, is a Kashmiri academic of high standing. Apart from being related to Sheikh Abdullah her books have great relevance in today’s fraught relations between India and Pakistan. Her recent book The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation (ISBN 978-1-137-46563-4) has a Foreword by Gopalkrishna Gandhi (grandson of Gandhi) which has just been published by Palgrave Macmillan, New York. It is an important work because, though it is a slim volume, only 139 pages, it provides facts about Jammu and Kashmir which many so-called experts do not know. The author’s information is first-hand and is told through the lens of Akbar Jehan, Sheikh Abdullah’s amazing wife. Above all, the author is scrupulously unbiased.
How the Kashmir Problem is ever going to be solved is anyone’s guess but this book, with its rare pictures, certainly provides a clear shaft of light on the complicated issue.