The only significant interaction with Prof Ashok Kaul I remember was during his lecture at the Department of Economics at BHU. He said nothing against Kashmiri Muslims in a lecture that lasted over 2 hours. I was watching him awestruck; how could this be for a person whose whole community was driven out from their native land? He didn’t even speak once against the people responsible for it and instead talked of his cherished friendships with them.
His well-drawn conclusions were so backed by facts and logic that the audience could hardly differ on them, whatsoever their ideology may be. I had always heard a lot about him from my seniors. But even after listening to two of his elaborate lectures on Kashmir, I wondered where according to him the solution lay. He was a person so objective in his expression that one was mesmerised by his expositions of Shaivism and Reshi culture of Kashmir, and forgot to ask him about the way ahead for Kashmir! After all, Shaivism had become too limited long ago, and the Reshi culture, too, is now a matter of the distant past.
And so, when I came to know about ‘Undercover in Bandipore’, I could not afford to wait for my examinations to end before reading this book. Prof Ashok Kaul, Professor Emeritus at Banaras Hindu University, calls it a novel, a fiction based on sociological imagination.
This book deals with the underlying sociological and psychological reasons that lead the valley’s youth to militancy. It deals with the social transformation that Kashmir has been going through in the past few decades. It brings out the societal fabric of present-day Kashmir and the circumstances that led to it. I have read almost a dozen books on Kashmir but I found this one better than any other. It dissects the intrinsic conflict that an individual faces once he is into that never-ending process of jihad, where he begins to realise that they and their families are the actual victims of it, with hardly any end to their sufferings or any way back to normalcy.
What Professor Kaul calls a sociological fiction is a classic empirical social research delivered through the device of fiction so interestingly that every character seems to be a philosopher. It is only the people of that land who can carry so detailed an insight into life. But the next moment the reader returns to the realisation that it is actually Prof Kaul speaking through those characters and then one becomes a greater admirer of his mastery over the subject. The book deals with a very limited subject matter but still runs through 350 pages, and nowhere it seems to repeat the content even passingly. It should have been a doctoral thesis for the new sociological perspective that it has brought in.
While going through the book, there was a feeling on many occasions that it must be a true account, for it can’t be a fiction which is so close to fact and full of true emotions. The novel’s character, Prof Paras, seemed none other than Prof Kaul himself, or at least inspired by his life. I remember our final days at BHU when we were taking photographs with the people we had came across in our time there. We encountered Prof Kaul in the corridors of the sociology department. The way he blessed us after we took a photograph with him spoke volumes about his personality. It also left an indelible mark on us. It was the same compassion and wisdom that Prof Paras in the novel possessed.
The book goes on into detail of the various causes of the Kashmir crisis, the problem of jihad and the various forms of jihad, including love and intellectual jihad, internal and external issues of the conflict, the problems of poverty, education and religiosity, and to top it all, he talks of keeping in centre the ‘individual citizen’ of Kashmir. He talks of the Muslim, the Batta (Kashmiri Pandit), the State, and the Hurriyat. True, the solution isn’t a straightjacket formula, but it is possible!
The book is a must-read for the policymakers on Kashmir and those interested in understanding Kashmir and its problems. Thank you so much, Sir.
The writer is a final-year law student at Faculty of Law, University of Delhi, and a Political Science graduate from Banaras Hindu University. [email protected]