Searching for Doubles

I had a dream. Like any other struggling writer I had a dream to write a magnum opus. Having written for more than forty years on   Kashmir and having interviewed most of the major leaders  I thought that it was my forte.  Kashmir is no ordinary subject. It is a major subject. As someone has rightly said that when you write about a major subject it is like getting another university education. Doing a book on Kashmir is really a similar kind of endeavor. I was not interested in writing on culture or literature but on politics. I was groping in the dark, Kashmir problem is a vast subject having varied shades and dimensions and what virgin subject should I take up. There are many books on struggle against the feudal autocracy. Some unbiased, some half-truths and some biased. Truly there are many missing links in it like as to why and how the Muslim Conference got divided – why was it renamed as the National Conference. There are many a missing links in the June 1947 to 27 October 1947 developments that call for being retold.  There are books by best minds on the genesis of the dispute. There are books on behind the scene happenings that led to the landing of troops and the vivisection of strategically  the most important state in South Asia. There are monographs on the strategic importance of this state caught up in the web of four nuclear armed countries. There seemed no major subject I could write about.

Some two decades back I had read a book by Raj Mohan Gandhi, “Understanding the Muslim Mind“. The book is about eight Indian great Muslims, Sayyid Ahmed Khan (1817-1898), Muhammad Iqbal (1876-1938), Muhammad Ali (1876-1931), Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948), Fazlul Haq (1873-1962), Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), Liquat Ali Khan (1895-1951) and Zakir Hussain (1897-1969). These eight Muslim leaders born in nineteenth century did shape the destiny of the Muslims of sub-continent during twentieth century. These men by all stretch of imagination can be called as great men of the twentieth century.  I thought of writing a similar type of book that would provide an insight into the Kashmir mind. I did identify eight political leaders whom I had an opportunity of having watched from very close quarters. But the question that haunted my mind was whether any of these  eight leaders  could be called as a great man. I tried for looking someone in the twentieth century Kashmir who could be bracketed with these great Indian Muslims. Did I find one ?  I will leave you guessing! But to understand the mind of the Kashmir leaders I did marathon interviews ranging from an hour to six hours with more than a hundred contemporary political workers and leaders who  have not only  closely worked with these leaders but  have also stood like a rock by their side.   

The eight people that Raj Mohan Gandhi has written about are really great minds but it would have been unwise of me to find a replica of them in the contemporary Kashmir. Furthermore, to find out if any one of the leaders I had selected for my study could be placed in proximity of them would also have been foolhardiness. Other than initiating me to go deeper into the factors that contributed to the Kashmir tragedy and understanding the role of our leaders in perpetuating this tragedy, the book by Gandhi inspired me to delve deeper into the lives of the great Indian Muslim leaders.  Every one of these eight Muslim leader have a distinctive personality not only in the Muslim historical context of the region but also in the region as a whole.  Out of his list of eight, I see Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the greatest for his “indomitable will” and as very beautifully put by Stanly Wolpert, “His place of primacy in Pakistan’s history looms like a minaret over the achievements of all his contemporaries of Muslim league”. Some of his critics like Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre who wrote many bad things about him and called him “a man of towering vanity” had to write that “a more improbable leader of India’s Muslim could hardly be imagined.. he had been able to achieve the remarkable feat of securing the allegiance of the vast majority of India’s Muslims without being able to articulate more than a few sentences in their traditional language-Urdu”.
Most of biographers of Mr. Jinnah including the latest one by former Indian Foreign Minister, Jaswant Singh have highlighted his statesmanship, political insight, integrity, statecraft and some religious zealots have often been looking for a lesser Muslim in him – preferring to call him a non-practicing Muslim. I did not look for  a Jinnah in the eight I had selected for my book,  he had been described by Bevereley    Nicholas in his book Verdict on India, “ Tall thin and elegant, with a monocle on grey silk cord, and a stiff and white  color  which he wears in the hottest weather, he suggest a gentleman of Spain, a diplomat of old school.”
In my search for finding what was missing in our leaders that instead of redeeming the people had pushed them into morass of uncertainty,  I had an opportunity of finding a Jinnah outside his known biographies. I find a Jinnah that hitherto has remained eclipsed from people, in two article on him one by his sister Fatima Jinnah, ‘A Businessman Becomes A Barrister’ and another by Sadat Husain Manto, ‘Jinnah Sahib’. ( I have read translation by Khalid Hassan).  

This man whose “life was model of order and discipline” in the words of French authors of the “Freedom at Midnight“, “even the phlox and petunias of his garden marched out from his mansion straight”,  had great passion for newspapers. ‘He had them mailed to him for all over the world.”  His sister writes about him, his eager mind was keen to benefit by his visit to England at that time (youth) when spirit of British Liberalism was making such profound impact  on the minds of people. He adopted the typically English habit of reading carefully his morning   newspapers as he awoke and completed his breakfast.” About his joining the Lincoln’s Inn Fatima Jinnah quotes his brother having said, “ It was during the days that I was busy studying for my “Little Go” (entrance test). I was determined to pass. I may say I was confident. I thought of seeing the various Inns in London and meeting students studying there in order to make up my mind in advance. My inquires and discussions made me decide for an Inn other than Lincoln’s. But then I had seen the name of great Prophet Muhammad engraved on the main entrance of Lincoln’s Inn among the great law givers of the world. So I made a sort of Minnat (pledge) that I would join Lincoln’s Inn.” She in this article gives lots of details about the life of Quaid as a student and how he lived an austere life.

Manto’s article on Jinnah makes more interesting read about the life style of this great leader, his relations with his sisters other than Miss Fatima Jinnah, his servants and drivers. ‘Quaid had three sisters one of them Rehmat Jinnah lived at Chowpati, her husband did not earn much. Jinnah Sahib would sent her every month some money in closed envelop through his driver’. Quaid Azam played billiards and would hit with precision. Manto writes in politics ‘Quaid was equally meticulous. He never made hasty decision. As in billiards, he would examine the situation from every angle and only move when he was sure he would get it right the first time.’

The article based on Manto’s interview with famous pre-partition actor Azad who had worked as Quaid-e-Azam’s chauffer shows that Quaid was great not by virtue of founding a nation state through his determination but he was great for his day to day living. He did not like idle talk but was kind and beneficent to his servants and his drivers.  
This article about Quaid not only belies his detractors but  also provides insight into the personal life of a man who has never said “sorry” in his life and about whom the general belief has been that his ‘domestic life has always been a mystery and would remain so.’

Not through his voluminous biographies by best American and British historians but even making the article by Manto on Jinnah as a touchstone for assessing the leaders I had selected to write about, reluctantly I have come to the conclusion that they are not even a shade of this great man.

(Feedback at zahidgm@greaterkashmir.com)