Told Stories Remain Untold

I never knew the historian will himself become history just a few days after I met him. Prof. Muhammad Ishaq Khan left me in shock


 It was our last meeting. I never imagined, it would be our last meeting. How could such an absurd idea crop into my mind?  His face was as rubicund as that of sixteen-year highland lad ferociously chopping a massive log of wood.  There was youthful spark in his eyes singing Robert Frost’s song ‘The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’ I am talking of historian, writer and poet Prof. Muhammad Ishaq Khan.

It was a chance meeting. Two days before he suffered a massive heart attack we met at the condolence meeting of Sheikh Muhammad Usman founder of Gulshan Books, our publisher.  On leaving the condolence meeting four of us Dr. Abdul Ahad, M. Ashraf, Prof. Ishaq Khan and I were engaged in a long conversation in the lane outside – it was unusually long conversation that lasted almost thirty minutes.  

For a longtime, I had been complaining to him and some other historian friends that they are badly caught up in the web of medieval history and mysticism. Moreover, our historians have ignored contemporary Kashmir history and if European and American historians had not researched hard and published books perhaps, our contemporary story would not have been told to the world.  Our genuine historians are capable enough to tell their story to the world but something like that of musician William in Jesse Ball’s novel “Curfew” has been holding them back. Prof. Ishaq is one amongst few Kashmiri scholars internationally known for their contributions. Major edited anthologies of Oxford University Press concerning Islam contain reprints of some of his ‘seminal’ contributions. Many contemporary scholars on Kashmir like Mridu Rai and Chitralekha Zutshi have immensely benefitted from his works like History of Srinagar City, Kashmir Transition to Islam, Experiencing Islam, Crisis of Kashmir Muslims: Spiritual and Intellectual, Biographical Dictionary of Sufism in South Asia. In History of Srinagar,   considered as one of his major works, in bits and pieces he refers to the peoples struggle for their rights. But, like many of his contemporaries, he also avoided writing on the Kashmir dispute that has ‘bedeviled India-Pakistan relations’ for the past sixty five years and ‘brought two major wars to the sub-continent and contributed to third in 1971.’  Moreover, that has emerged as nuclear flashpoint in South Asia. 

During conversation referring to one of my columns on the same theme,   Prof. Khan told us that his thinking had undergone a metamorphosis- and many of his beliefs about Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah’s role in 1947 had come a cropper. Earlier on many an occasion in his conversations and writings he seemed to be a supporter of  autonomy as was enjoyed by the state within Union Of India from 1947 to 1953. He also saw it as a way out of the quagmire the state is caught up in, now for decades. Nevertheless, during the last conversation with him, it seemed there was radical change in his political outlook.  He was not any more tethered to his past beliefs and these changes were going to find a reflection in the book he was writing about the “Kashmir Dispute”. The 1947 happenings even after sixty-five years  are discussed   at the international level in academic circles. Every new work on Kashmir has been shedding a new light on the developments that have been affecting hundred and sixty Crore people living in the sub-continent. In 199o’s Kashmir: A Dispute Legacy 1846-1990 by British historian Alastair Lamb published by OUP caused a storm in academic and political circles in the region and in fact it deconstructed all old ‘dominant’ narratives on Kashmir. M.S. Pampori augmented the argument forwarded by Lamb further in his book Kashmir in Chain 1819-2010 published by Ali Muhammad and Sons.  Dr. Abdul Ahad in his book Kashmir: Triumph and Tragedies published by Gulshan Books, Srinagar added more information to Lamb’s narrative on accession.  The recently released   the Kashmir: the Unwritten History by Christopher Snedden added yet another dimension to Kashmir narrative. 

Prof. Ishaq Khan’s in his new book perhaps near completion, as one could make out of conversation besides being in agreement with views of Lamb and Snedden on the question of accession was exploring various options for resolution of the problem. During the discussions, he asked me If I had a copy of book Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan by Stanley Wolpert in my small personal library or if I could provide him reference about partition as one of the solution of the Kashmir problem  as contained in the book. He was referring to the discussions between Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah and Pakistan Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in plane while coming to Delhi in Islamabad for attending cremation of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964. The reference he was looking for read like this: 

‘On Nehru’s death terminating his tour Sheikh flew to New Delhi with Pakistan Foreign Minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhuttoo. “The two leaders had sufficient time in that hour of flight to discuss a fallback position on Jammu and Kashmir. The Sheikh advised Zulfi to hold tenaciously to the Plebiscite demand for entire state, but suggested that Jammu and Kashmir’s partition below the Chenab at a point called Pethlinot would be a realistic final position.”  I told him that this was not only reference when partition of the state was mooted. I mentioned to him Frank Moraes in his book Witness to an Era  writes that after 1962, China War  Americans had suggested partition of the state with Kashmir  valley going to Pakistan and Ladakh going to India, with India getting a corridor to Leh through Kashmir. The exact reference in Moraes book reads like this: “ During the Indo-Pakistan War which followed the Sino-Indian Conflict in 1962, an attempt was made to work out rules for access of both India and Pakistan to the Valley of Srinagar. Though the Americans did not explicitly define their attitude, there statement suggested that while the valley should go to Pakistan, India should be guaranteed a corridor through the valley to enable supply to Ladakh, a frontier already threatened by the Chinese”. 

Culling out these references on Saturday I rang up Dr. Ishaq to visit him along with the reference- little did I know, that I was late by two days.   Some of his relation responded to put me in a shock:  ‘He is in ICU at SKIMS and suffered a heart attack on Friday- I could not utter a word.’ 

I wish his last book be published- even if incomplete. Let it not meet   the fate of stories that despite being told remained untold, like Muhammad Amin Pandit’s book, Keys to Kashmir.