Book Review: The Tale of a Beleaguered Soldier

Book Review: The Tale of a Beleaguered Soldier | Author: Tej N. Dhar | Publisher: Authorspress Global Network | Year of Publication: 2021
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The author calls his work a novel but anybody with a layman’s knowledge of Kashmir history, from ancient to present times, will find it a unique  exercise of cobbling together some of the branded events of Kashmir history to produce a chain of events. The author has set them in a narrative framework of a conversation between a sage (Swamiji) and his student-disciple (Manav). 

The identity of the sage — the main narrator of the saga — remains undisclosed till the end of the text. Hence, it gives rise to many speculations. I, for one, am disposed to think of Swamiji as the incarnation of Kashyapa Rishi. The basis of my speculation is the knowledge of the origin, past, present and the future of Kashmir history as conveyed by him to Manav from time to time.

And Manav, depicted as an adolescent, is too young to understand and analyse the intricacies of statecraft. Without being conscious that he is the soldier destined to pass through many vicissitude and calamitous events, himself taking part in a variety of them, ultimately surfaces as a distinguished Pandit of the 18-19th century. He is Pandit Birbal Dhar. Thus the entire gamut of Kashmir history, beginning with the legend of Satisar down to his own times when he invites Maharaja Ranjit Singh to deliver his compatriots from the tyranny and rapacity of the Pathan rule is disclosed to him by the sage. He has curious questions to ask and he receives equally startling information from the sage which makes him a wiser man.  

Long historical narratives are usually boring particularly when the canvas of the work is spread out to encompass the whole range of Kashmir history. The author has reined in the sage and thus disabled the element of boredom while swinging from era to era and ruling dynasty. Some of the events of the times of ancient kings of Kashmir like Sandhimata, Matriguta, Lalitaditya, Jayapida and Avantivarman are recounted with a combined aura of fiction and reality.

The conspicuous contribution is the compact and concise explanation of philosophical subtleties like the Buddhist teachings or the nuances of Shaivite philosophy. How much material the author has scanned to cull out all that he would so succinctly reproduce in the volume is something remarkable and a proof of real scholarship.

The author makes the sage Swamiji deal extensively with the reign of Sultan Zainu’l Abidin Budshah as an era that may rightly be called an island in an oasis. The story of civilizational transformation in Kashmir in 14-16th century is recounted succinctly but factually without an element of rancour and vengeance, which, however, is the bane of unprincipled historians.

Last ten sections of the book, meaning Section 40 onwards, are perhaps the most crucial part of contemporary history on which hinge the important themes like the despotic tendency inherent in the first populist regime after independence, the subtle unmasking of the real intentions of the left and the pseudo-secularists in Kashmir politics, dynastic lust for power and the feuds thereof and finally the extra-territorial loyalty stemming from externally sponsored Theo-fascist blitzkrieg. These sections are extremely interesting for the author’s razor sharp analysis of a bruised and mauled mind of the victims of ethnic cleansing of Kashmir.  Those among the victims and also those who think they are charged with the responsibility of deciding the future of these victims will find an appropriate solution to their dilemma of “return and rehabilitation” of the Pandits in Kashmir in the concluding sections of the book. The author has concluded this intractable debate in simple yet in most profound words;

Manav: “Why only my community has to move out every now and then though the valley has been home to it for centuries, long before other religions came on the scene?”

Swamiji: “Manav! Whether you like it or not, this unfortunately, is your fate. I told you true stories about how destiny rules us in mysterious ways. Though there are explanations for whatever happens, even those explanations beg a question: why should what happens impact only you and not the others. To this, the only answer is: it is because you have been a beleaguered soldier, a person who has had to live with too many dangers and difficulties. The moment you feel that you are safe and settled, something happens to unsettle you.”

This is the truth. But then appears the profound comment from the author. He puts words in the mouth of Swamiji: “Manav! The moment your people are out of their ancestral place, they cease to be beleaguered soldiers. They grow and flourish. ….. Manav! The sad truth is that you are unsafe in what you claim is your home state: you have been like that in the past and you will be also in the days to come.

The Pandits living in exile should not only read the book but understand it also.

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K N Pandita

K N Pandita has a PhD in Iranian Studies from the University of Teheran. He is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University.

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