For Nehru they were ‘raiders,’ for Sherwani and Mehjoor ‘cannibals’

Sherwani and Mehjoor, Cannibals,
Sherwani and Mehjoor, Cannibals,

New Delhi: Among all Kashmiris, the historic failure of Pakistans ‘Operation Gulmarg — an invasion through the tribal raiders from NWFP to occupy Maharaj Hari Singhs Jammu and Kashmir in October-November 1947 — is attributed to the National Conference (NC) activist Maqbool Sherwani of Baramulla. Seized and punished for ‘treason by the invaders, Sherwani was executed in Baramulla on November 7, 1947.

Sherwani is said to have misled the raiders, wasted four crucial days of their advancement towards Srinagar from October 23 to October 26, 1947, and thus botched up their attempt to capture the capital and the valley’s only airport. His ‘mischief’ provided the Maharaja time to shift his family to the safe zone of Jammu and sign the instrument of accession with India on October 26. The next day, on October 27, the Indian Army landed at the airfield in Srinagar and repulsed the invasion.

November 7, the day of Sherwani’s execution, proved to be the raiders’ last day in the valley as hundreds of them were killed by the Indian army and thousands fled back while killing and looting whatever came their way.

There are few historical and scientific evidences to precisely establish how exactly Sherwani did ‘mislead’ the raiders. But from many accounts and the word of the mouth in the last over seven decades, everybody in Kashmir believes that Sherwani, in his late 20s, played a key role in the raiders’ setback. Eyewitnesses to 1947 maintain that Sherwani was shot 14 times all over his body which was fixed to a standing wooden board with long iron nails.

Jammu and Kashmir’s first Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah got Srinagar’s iconic civil line street Residency Road named as ‘Maqbool Sherwani Road.’ A municipal hall in Baramulla still exists in Sherwani’s name. Besides, there is ‘Maqbool Sherwani Ward’ at Sher-e-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS) Soura, in Srinagar.

According to the distinguished political and cultural historian Mohammad Yousuf Taing (85), the state government’s Department of Information had also made a documentary film on the tribal raid and highlighted Sherwani’s role in failing the invasion.

“The Field Publicity Unit of Information Department screened that film at some theatres in Srinagar as also on celluloid in several villages,” Taing said. He has served as Secretary, J&K Academy of Art, Culture and Languages, Director General of Information, Archives and Museums, a member of J&K State Public Service Commission and NC’s Member of Legislative Assembly. Apart from being the scribe of Sheikh Abdullah’s autobiography ‘Aatish-e-Chinaar,’ Taing has also compiled and published anthologies of several Kashmiri poets.

How Kashmir’s intellectual fraternity has viewed the tribal invasion is best archived in a chapter of ‘Kuliyaat-e-Mehjoor’, the complete collection of Ghulam Ahmad Mehjoor’s poems in Kashmiri language. Mehjoor (1887-1952) is indisputably the most representative voice of Kashmir’s cultural and literary domain in the last over three centuries.

Years before Taing published ‘Kuliyaat-e-Mehjoor’ in 1985, Balraj Sahni with director Prabhat Mukherjee made ‘Shayar-e-Kashmir Mehjoor,’ a film on Mehjoor, in 1970-72. Sahni himself played Mehjoor. It was screened at theatres in J&K and outside. Until now the valley’s most popular poet, Mehjoor is held at par with Faiz Ahmad Faiz in Urdu and William Wordsworth in English literature.

In his poem ‘Nalla-e-Sherwani,’ Mehjoor sums up Sherwani’s suffering during the night of November 6/7 when he was in captivity of the raiders in Baramulla. It rhymes Sherwani’s message to the people of Kashmir on the last night of his life. Mehjoor, through Sherwani, calls the raiders as ‘cannibals’ and ‘scoundrels.’

Sherwani’s message:

The cannibals have descended from the mountains

They have the blood of a multitude of innocents on their hands

They have made my country a veritable hell

It was a garden of flowers and they have laid it waste

They trained their arrows on the nightingales

They threw stones at crystal shops

Had you been armed, they wouldn’t have dared to attack

In another poem titled ‘Ahad-o-Paiman-e-Hazratbal,’ Mehjoor crafts a poetic version of Sheikh Abdullah’s address to a huge gathering on occasion of Eid-e-Meelad-un-Nabi at Hazratbal, Srinagar, on 14, January 1949. Here is the part on the tribal raid:

“The tribals of Pakistan invaded Kashmir

It were the tribal Pathans who attacked

From Hazara and the hills of Murree

They advanced rapidly, they were cruel like Hitler

They wanted to turn this mountainous land upside down

They stormed Kashmir in lightning haste

How they misbehaved with the Kashmiri people

Is known to all and needs no recounting

They spread over the country like a pestilence

The sky and the earth trembled

The forests resounded with piteous cries

They looted the whole of Kamraz [Northern Kashmir]

Then they started advancing towards the city

We were horror-struck to see this tempest advancing

It was a matter of life and death for us

Our life, property and honor were destroyed

We had neither weapons nor a standing army

We had neither refuge nor place of escape…

We pondered over the situation and the course correction

We rushed to India and asked for their help

We decided to temporarily accede to India

In that situation that was the proper course of action

The Indian Army was airlifted to Kashmir

Interestingly, however, Sherwani has been forgotten in Kashmir’s cultural and historical landscape. Seventy-three years later, there is no signboard to show the direction of Sherwani Road which is continuously known by its British colonial name of ‘Residency Road.’ The Sherwani Hall at Baramulla gutted in a mysterious fire around 1989. It was reconstructed and a commemorative plaque in Sherwani’s name was installed by the then Governor, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha (Retd).

And hold your breath! Even ‘Kuliyat-e-Mehjoor’ is nowhere available in J&K’s bookstores, reading rooms and public libraries. Its first and the last edition appeared in 1985. The chapter on the tribal invasion has neither been a subject of critical appreciation at a literary assembly nor taught in undergraduate, graduation or post-graduation courses of any college or university after the outbreak of insurgency in 1989.

“Had Taing Sahab not preserved a treasure in Kuliyat, the world would have known nothing about it. Previously Ali Mohammad Book Sellers had published Mehjoor’s poems in small pamphlets. But those are not available now,” said a prominent Kashmiri researcher. “The Cultural Academy officers offer a lame excuse that Mehjoor’s descendants have served a legal notice on the copyright. Everybody knows that the copyright is retained only up to 40 years after an author’s death. Anybody is free to print Mehjoor’s poetry after 1992. The government hasn’t shown a will,” he added.

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