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‘Separation from our birthplace Kashmir has always been painful’

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Born in Kashmir in 1940, perhaps none have seen the Valley more up, close and personal than Inder Keishen Chaku. The Late 1940s and 1950s was also a time when love for the performing arts was scorned at, an aversion developed not only among the Muslims but also the Hindus of the state. And Chaku calls himself a rebel in every sense of the word as he pursued his love for the arts in the face of opposition. He would go on to retire as Deputy Director from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting after a rich and varied experience. Through his work, he was able to delve more into the culture, history and arts of a state ravaged by history of misrule through the centuries. So when his father Arjan Nath Chaku started an epic work on reengaging with the history of Kashmir (but unfortunately passed away before its completion), Chaku took it upon himself to finish the two voluminous works, thus keeping alive his father’s legacy. The Kashmir Story: through the ages I & II (Vitasta Publications) is truly a labour of love, he says. Talking of Kashmir in the present circumstances, Chaku who is now visiting Melbourne says terrorism has become a global phenomenon. “Pakistan who is fostering the terrorism and exporting it to India and other places has to realize that by killing innocent people no civilized country or society is going to side with it. Pakistan has to stop this Jihad and neutralize the domestic extremism.” Indira Laisram in conversation with this writer, theatre personality and retired government official.

Tell us a bit about your books which you have co-authored with your father?
The Kashmir Story – Through the Ages is a chronological record of significant events that occurred in the Valley of Kashmir. It was our quest to excavate the terrains which we once proudly called motherland. This book gives us a panoramic view starting from its imbibed civilizations, culture, all the way to the current rattling, commotion and uncertainty in Kashmir.
The Kashmir Story unfolds the sequence of events, seeped in pain, yearning and longings for the birth place of Hindus. It is the nostalgic journey of people, who cultivated and nurtured the place for centuries and is a journey through the ages. The people, Kashmiri Pandits, live to tell their tales of being neglected, ignored and abandoned despite having lives there since aeons, and having developed a distinctive way of life, institution and standards. But alas! That is now history.
However, this book has the distinction of consolidating most of the facts and events since ancient times till the exodus of Hindus from Kashmir. It is a kind of encyclopaedia on Kashmir. It also explains about the people, their struggle for the enrichment of political, economic, social, religious and cultural movements from ancient, medieval to present times.
POLTIICAL: The political history has been projected from approximately 2500 BC. We have tried to highlight the episodes right from Mahabharata period when Lord Krishna ensures Queen Yashovati, the wife of King Damodara whom he killed, to be the first queen to rule Kashmir. It also tells the political enlightenment of the great queens of Kashmir – Queen Didda, Queen, Suryamati, and Queen Kota Rani, the last Hindu ruler of Kashmir. Brave Kota Rani endured ill treatment from several male establishments, yet she faced those grim situations with great valour and vigour. Her contribution to the history of Kashmir cannot be undermined. With the heartbreaking death of this brave-heart queen, the history of Kashmir took a queer turn and it underwent a magic metamorphosis from bad to worst. Thus began the Muslim period.
During Muslim period the forceful conversion and persecution of Hindus by Sultan Sikandar, the iconoclast (Sikandar Bout Shikan, Sikandar the Idol breaker) led to death and destruction of most Hindus of the Valley. It is said that only eleven Hindu families were left. However, the events changed with the great Muslim King Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, affectionately known as Budshah (King of Kings), and his son Sultan Sikandar who took over the reins of Kashmir. He came and healed the wounds of the Hindus.
The Sultanate rule was followed by splendid Mughals, and then the brute Pathans, the Afghan rule in Kashmir. Muslim rule remained in Kashmir for about 500 years (1319-1819), then the Sikh rule took over and finally the Dogra rule.
We have also talked about the modern political changes, from the period of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah to his grandson Omar Abdullah’s rule and the spread of terrorism in the Valley, its reasons, its future including exodus of Hindus from the Valley. Presently the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) rule Kashmir after the 2015 election in Kashmir. Unfortunately Kashmir has become a constant source of tension between India and Pakistan, and the tension could not be eased even with wars.
PHILOSOPHY & CULTURE: Kashmir was earlier known as Sarada Desha. It was a place of learning. Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and other religions flourished side by side. The famous Trika Philosophy of Kashmir Shaivism is a unique philosophical concept, as also the spread of Rishi culture by Hazrat Sheikh Nur-Ud-Din (Nund Rishi). The book gives a vivid description of the pillars of Kashmiri culture such as Abhinavagupta, Charak, Sarangadeva, and Somadeva. It also tells us about the life and works of the famous Sufi Saints such as Lall Ded etc. The book also describes about the famous poets, writers, painters, dramatists, musicians etc.
GEOGRAPHY: It also speaks about the geography dotted with mountain ranges, glaciers, passes, rivers (and a glimpse into the famous seven bridges of Srinagar), lakes (Wular, Dal), springs (Kheer Bhawani, Verinag, Cheshma Shahi), forests, flora fauna (the famous chinar, saffron) and the wildlife sanctuaries – all that inspires tourism.
CRAFT TRADITION: Kashmir has an extremely rich craft tradition, distinguished by great aesthetics and multifarious art history, intricate designs, patterns, painfully crafted artefacts etc. These crafts and patterns describe the socio-political conditions of the people of Kashmir and the impact of other cultures of various countries. The book speaks about the famous shawls, carpets, Samovar, house Boats, Kanger (the famous fire pot) etc.
PERFORMING ARTS: Kashmir is also rich in the field of performing folk-art and folk-lore. The famous Band Pather is unique Folk Theatre of Kashmir. The Chakri, the Rouf has its distinctiveness. It also describes about the most attractive dances of Ladakh and Jammu region.

What was the emotional connect and how long did it take to complete the two volumes?
Separation from the birth place, though for various reasons, was always painful for my father Arjan Nath Chaku. His attachment and penchant for the Valley coaxed him to express his feelings for the land he belonged to. To pen down the history of Kashmir was always a dream for him. But there were certain problems such as his ailing health which came in the way. Secondly he was not familiar with the computer. Therefore I offered my assistance which he accepted, readily and gladly.
We started working on the project in the year 2003. My father started working on the historical and political side of the book and I started the research alongside writing the cultural part of the book. The research work necessitated innumerable visits to libraries and meeting people in and outside the Valley. By the year 2010, we had compiled about 80 percent of the material. The search and research, discussions and deliberations started giving the book some shape. Unfortunately in January 2011, my father left for his heavenly abode.
Shattered and frustrated initially, I shelved the manuscripts. But then something kept nagging and pestering me – that my father’s soul was around, asking me to complete the project. This was my father’s intellectual legacy that he had left for me to complete. It took me another five years to complete the venture and the book was launched on April 18, 2016. In all it took 12 years for the book to complete.

Tell us more about your father’s vision?
My father Arjan Nath Chaku was born in Kashmir when the whole of India was experiencing inhospitable environment, socially and politically. Indian struggle for freedom was at its peak. The Britishers ruling the rest of India meddled with the work of Maharaja of Kashmir in the Valley. However, he grew up in an atmosphere where nurturing the intellect and intellectualism was the main criteria for good upbringing. In spite of meagre resources, he developed the art of gaining intellectual wisdom from his elder brother who was a renowned political figure and a celebrated advocate of the state. In spite of the absence of Google then, my father found enough material on his brother’s shelves. Thus we have a tome of invaluable work before us for us and the future generation to learn.

What was your experiences growing up in the Valley?
There was nothing unusual growing up in the Valley except for my attraction towards the performing arts. Aversion for performing arts during those days was prevalent amongst the elderly people. The distaste for music and dance had developed not only among the Muslims but also with the Hindus. Those who indulged in such activities were bestowed sobriquets such as bhands (buffoons) etc. Yet I joined the rebel movement of the time and continued my pursuit for the performing arts. And it was through that inclination towards the art that I learnt about political, social and cultural aspects of the people of Kashmir. Leaving my higher studies half-way, I took up a job in the live media of Government of India and then working there for about 40 years to retire as Deputy Director from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.
In addition to my contribution towards performing arts, I also had an opportunity to work with maestros such as Shambhu Mitra, legendary Indian film and stage actor, director and Birju Maharaj, the famous Kathak champion. I worked for about 20 International Film Festivals of India, wherever those were organized all around the country. But all said and done, I have become an heir to the legacy left behind by my father, who was a friend, a father and a guru indeed.

Can you throw some light on the plight of Kashmir pandits today?
To understand this, let’s go back to history a bit. In the early 14th century three fugitives Rinchan – Shah Mir and Lankar Chak – came from outside Kashmir and they were received warmly by King Suhadeva. But these three ended up usurping the throne of Kashmir. What followed was repression and annihilation of the Kashmiri Pandits. These Pandits were told to convert or face death.
Majority of Hindus had converted to Islam. But despite changing their religion these people were still following the Hindu religious rituals. The relationship between the communities was still affectionate. But in spite of the religious intolerance and extremism, unitarianism, though imported, was prevalent in Kashmiri ethos then.
During Mughal and Pathan rule, both Hindus and Muslims were grilled, exploited and humiliated. These were the characteristic which helped in maintaining the peace at the time. Yet the cruel Muslim monarchs continued the persecution of Hindus or non-Muslims. Kashmiri Hindus then requested Maharaja Ranjit Singh to invade Kashmir and Kashmir came under Sikh domination. Sikh rule remained in the Valley till British took over Punjab and they sold Kashmir to Dogra ruler, Maharaja Gulab Singh.
Another problem was that both the Hindus and Muslim were in abject condition. Only few people had access to a comfortable life. The struggle for hand to mouth living consumed their time and energy. This refrained them to disrupt the mutual peace. But there were some religious bigots who were always trying to find some opportunity to bring all others, with different faiths, into their own fold. One of the important reasons with Muslims is that they do not believe in pluralistic society. Given the opportunity they will convert all others into their fold. The exodus of Hindus in the year 1990 is the best example.
Therefore to believe that there was genuine communal harmony such as Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Hindu Muslim Unity during pre-independence period is to live in a fool’s paradise.

What is the present situation?
The Hurriyat conference leaders, the separatists of Kashmir raised a rebellion in the Valley. Instead of trying their luck in political field, they invited Pakistani Militants who brought death and devastation in the state. The unfortunate part is that the Kashmir dispute is not now restricted to governments of India and Pakistan but it has slipped into the hands of radical elements in Pakistan and Kashmir, who are assuming centre stage. Religion has become a dominant force to sort out the problem and is replacing the political connotation of the Kashmir conflict. A Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist said that they are not fighting for Azadi (freedom) of the state but they want to spread Islam in the region and enforce Sharia law and they will achieve this through Jihad, violence, and destruction. Perhaps their Jihad means killing and robbing the non–Muslim who refuse to accept Islam. This is a religious duty of the radicalized Muslims.
It may be seen that the growing public support for violence is a dangerous trend for the people of Kashmir. These separatists want to transform Kashmir into Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Yemen etc. The terrorists, the separatists Hurriyat and the anti-nationals in the Valley should also know that by creating mayhem in the Valley they are destroying peace and tranquillity of the state. It is a dangerous trend to combine politics with religion.

What in your views would help pave the way for a peaceful future?
Terrorism has become global phenomenon. It has posed a number of challenges to democratically elected governments. It is a curse on humanity. Pakistan who is fostering the terrorism and exporting it to India and other places has to realize that by killing innocent people no civilized country or society is going to side with it. Pakistan has to stop this Jihad and neutralize the domestic extremism. The problem of Kashmir can only be solved by bilateral dialogue and there can be no other way out. But will Pakistan agree to this?

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