Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah: Tragic Hero of Kashmir by Ajit Bhattacharjea

Rating: 8/10

Review: Ever since I read M.J.Akbar's book Kashmir: Behind the Vale ( My review of the book is here), my fascination about all things Kashmir has just reached an apex point. This book, obviously, was my best bet.

Released recently by a reputed journalist Ajit Bhattacharjea, it seemed to provide a comprehensive biography of the intriguing personality that is Sheikh Abdullah.It does justice to that first impression.

The book is obviously well-researched and is neatly presented(foot notes abound). The story of a young man belonging to a poor family of weavers growing up to be an inspirational teacher, later standing up and fighting against the autocracy of the Maharaja, making a clarion call for unity and secularism in a troubled valley, developing a strong relationship with fellow Kashmiri and Indian PM Jawaharlal Nehru( The book does great justice to the relationship, examining it beautifully ), being jailed and undergoing great struggles to pick between accession and autonomy and his final place in power as CM of Jammu and Kashmir, is a story that legends are made of.

This book is typical non-fiction. Strong in facts, presenting a hundred references, making it evident that a lot of work has gone in to come up with this biography. But there's something missing in the book. There isn't any sparkling witty remark or comment a la Alex von Tunzelmann or Shashi Tharoor. There isn't any tongue in cheek observation- the writing is old school.

What hits me most though is the lack of emotion in the most important parts of the book. I'm not sure about other readers of non-fiction or biographies, but, for me, the emotion that the author brings in to the biography is very crucial. After all, without that emotion, isn't the biography a mere compilation of facts?

The life of Sheikh Abdullah was tumultous and certainly very emotional. I expected several parts to make me teary-eyed, but they didn't. In comparison, the relatively small chapter about Abdullah's death in M.J.Akbar's Kashmir: Behind the Vale had me in tears, while this book did absolutely nothing to me emotionally, though it is most certainly a rewarding academic exercise.

Finally, to the thing that irritated me most in the book: editing or the lack of it. I can quote one dozen examples of grammatical errors, bad punctuation and basic spelling mistakes! It is such a shame that such a painstakingly researched book has to suffer from lackadaisical, abysmal editing. If I, while reading the book without any intention of finding mistakes, can come up with an entire list of errors in a single reading, what happened to the copy editor, whose job it is to find these mistakes?

Over all it is an excellent contribution to books about Indian political figures, though one wishes that issues like editing had been better taken care of.

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