‘Character Building in Kashmir’ is a 95-page book that could be read in a single sitting. It is written by one of the famous Christian missionaries named Tyndale Biscoe. Both the names of the book and its author do not demand further description as both are suggestive of the work they accomplished. This book is about the firsthand experience gained by Mr Tyndale Biscoe here in Kashmir while fulfilling his missionary motives. Much of the details inscribed in the book had come to author as a Principal of the famous school established in Srinagar after his name. The book has many staggering accounts to offer than its size envisages it to reveal. All of the events described in the book had come into the knowledge of the author primarily through his real life interactions with the people here during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. So the book is an addition to our scarcely documented annals of the times contemporary to those chronicled by Sir Walter Lawrence. The ouvre has reported every sort of inadequacies that were found in the then society of Kashmir. The lack of virtue and goodness in the folks has specially been emphasized upon.
Myriad events have been recounted by the author in which he has brought to fore the dishonest, dastard and deceptive nature of the people inhabiting this valley irrespective of their race or religion. Many of the deeply ingrained views about our past get smoothly smothered after going through this book. All these details are sometimes so harrowing that the reader simply can’t remain but denigrate his ancestors. Incidents like denying a ride to women by the haggling boatmen in the rising flood waters and a child not being rescued by a worshipping god man from getting drowned in the waters of Jhelum are few to decipher the essence of this book .In all the fairness everything publicized therein can’t be brushed aside as mere rubbish. And, this colossal shame of this nation has no one to attribute to but the nation itself. Leads has been dropped by the author that this inhuman attitude on part of the natives of this valley has analytical context. He formidably ascribes it to the long drawn oppression they had faced for centuries together at the hands of their foreign rulers. This in his opinion has rendered its population an ‘enervated and an effete race’. Everything positive and ‘manly’ were not any of our traits besides having a special inkling for dirt and poor hygiene hence categorizing indigenous people as mere ‘jellyfish’. It is not only the humans and their attitudes which have displeased the author but our costumes and streets were equally despised for having no aesthetic sense. In such a backdrop the worthy author takes it upon himself by virtue of his ‘noble mission’ to inculcate ‘values and principles’ into such an “uncultured” populace. He took this Herculean task as a challenge where many a people had little hope of success. The best of the ways he adopted was to transform the juveniles admitted in his school into the ‘selfrespecting citizens’ and change agents of society. It was hence embossed into the school emblem as a message which says ‘In All Things Be Men’. This, as per the author, could be done only by making them live a ‘Christian life’. It is for that the school children were preached biblical psalms and scriptures irrespective of their family religion. For the author of this book if there is anything the east should adopt to regain honour it was the path of ‘holy Christ’. Notwithstanding anything their pioneering role in the dissemination of modern education could not be denied or belittled here. Yet, effortlessly after finishing reading this book , the author by all objective means seems to be an enthusiastic evangelist who was out to propagate his indoctrinated values and beliefs. No doubt the anecdotes, despite not being time lined properly, in his book might be true; the choice of events and their presentation, however, seems motivated. On every page, the author appears in a great urgency to deify his race and religion. History testifies that there is no power on earth except the British who have unethically merchandised any nation lock, stock and barrel in lieu of few bucks. Pertinently, it becomes clear only after going through the first handful of pages that the author was having all the anglophilic preconceptions about the people of valley. He, hastily, in the introduction of the book declares that the majority of the population of this valley has been converted to their present faith ‘by the sword’. He, then, unapologetically fails to define their unflinching devotedness towards it. The reader also is bemused why Mr. Biscoe’s ‘gentle’ and ‘manly’ virtues fail to make mark even on any miniscule portion of the population here. Why after years of his ‘holy service’ his school had only a dozen of Christian students among the 1500 registered ones. Moreover what happened to his over-excited prophecy he has made that ‘Kashmir will one day be won for Christ’.
—The author is a PG in Mass Communication & Journalism from the University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: [email protected]