“Oral history as an instrument in historiography fascinates me”

Ramesh Tamiri, a physician by profession, is also a writer and columnist. He has been writing on different subjects for last several decades. His comparison with Arthur Conan Doyle, the famous writer of Sherlock Homels series will not be unfair as both share a common background. Both of them being ophthalmologists turned writers.
Recently, his historically important book Pakistan’s invasion of Kashmir-untold stories of victims was released.
In a freewheeling chat with Deepak Raj, Ramesh Tamiri shares his experiences he encountered with while writing the book.
Excerpts of interview:
Q. You are in medical profession. How did you get into history and research?
A. Outside my academics, my first interests were in literature. In 1973 I had the opportunity to study Saadat Hasan Manto, GD Maupassant and Maxim Gorky. Socialist realism of these writers appealed to me. Ma

nto’s work was more significant. It touched sensitive issues of partition. He himself was fascinated by Freud, Gorky and Maupassant.
Q. How did you shift from Literature to History?
A. Promulgation of Emergency in June 1975 by the then Congress government was a watershed moment for me. The entire country was in ferment. The youth were restive and yearned for change. This influenced me too. Literature would not have helped to understand the cataclysmic political changes and their larger fall-out. Understanding of politics and history would do.
Around the time Emergency was promulgated, an important book hit the book market. Its title was Explosion in the Indian sub-continent. It was an anthology, which featured excellent essays on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It was edited by historian Robin Blackburn, known for his famous work on history of slavery. I became acquainted with the contemporary history and politics of the sub-continent.
Q. Did you give up study of Literature altogether?
A. In a way yes, but my interest remained in Manto’s work on partition. Rigors of partition and subaltern communalism was major theme of his short stories. My interest continued in Historical fiction, because it was an arena where history was studied from the point of literature.
Q. Which themes in history interested you in 1980s?
A. 1980s were a period of great turbulence in Kashmir. My interests in this phase were confined mostly to Indian history and regional studies, not any focused study on Kashmir.
Q. Which works of history did you study during this phase?
A. Firstly, two great books – Marc Bloch’s Historian’s craft and EH Carr’s What is History, to familarise myself with the methodology of history. Secondly, essays by historians, RC Majumdar, Jadunath Sarkar, DC Sircar, NN Bhattacharya, KS Lal and Victor Kiernan, a British historian.
Q.How did your interest shift to Kashmir?
A.Situation in 1990. We had to leave our place. False narratives were created to justify our ethnic cleansing and project a picture of Kashmir which was far removed from reality. To contest false narratives one had to be familiar with the history of Kashmir. Superficial study would not do. I studied works of Aurel Stein, Dr. Ved Ghai, SC Ray, Dr.ML Kapoor, Dr.RK Parimu, Dr. MK Teng and others to familarise myself with the history of Kashmir.This was also the phase when I got acquainted with civilisational view of history. I was exposed to the works of Girilal Jain, VS Naipaul, Nirmal Verma, Arnold Toyanbee , Will Durant and F. Braudel.
Q. And then from study of history to research?
A. After I became seriously involved with the history ,next concern was to find out areas which were of relevance to us but were given either inadequate attention or else were ignored by the historians/ researchers.
Q. But your first book was on Painting and Theatre in Kashmir.How did you conceive writing this book?
A. Its title was Painting and Theatre in Kashmir-Suraj Tiku’s journey and was published in 2010. On the sidelines of a function the famous artist Gokul Dembi lamented that nobody remembered contributions of multifaceted artiste Suraj Tiku. He was a set-designer, a theatre actor, and an excellent painter. That was the motivation but the problem was there was no source material available to write on him. But his family had preserved his works and papers. Besides this, I interviewed people who knew him or had worked with him. This worked well. He had been trained by great painter artist and set designer Kashi Nath Bhan. Nobody had ever written on him. I prepared a detailed chapter on him. Two generations of Tiku family had been involved with the theatre. The book was very well received. Researchers found it quite useful.
Q.How did you get an idea to write the recently published book-Pakistan’s Invasion on J&K (1947-48) Untold Stories of victims?
A. 1947-48 Pakistani invasion affected Hindus and Sikhs in many parts of the state. Thousands were uprooted from their home and hearths. Over 38,000 people were killed in various holocausts unleashed by Pakistani invaders. Many thousands were trapped in areas which fell to the invaders. A big number among them could not make it to India. They had to suffer all sorts of privations and torture.
Many victims in their individual capacity wrote memoirs of those horrible days. There are good accounts of Muzaffarabad, Mirpur, Kotli, Poonch, Deva Vatala , Rajouri and Skardu. There were also some studies by scholars in Sikh community to document how their community was impacted by the Pakistani invasion. But there had been no study on how Kashmiri Hindu community was affected by the invasion. Many of them were killed in Skardu, Muzaffarabad, Khaplu, Mirpur, Drass and different places in Kashmir. There were also no works on Budhal and Chassana tehsils in Rajouri district.I undertook this project to fill an important gap in the historiography of 1947 horrendous happenings.
Q. How many interviews you conducted? Why did it take such a long time to complete the project, close to almost 23 years?
A. I interviewed over 450 persons, who were mostly eyewitnesses to 1947 events and in some cases ,where eyewitness accounts were not possible, the nearest kith and kin of the victims. It took long time because in many cases resource persons were not easily available.
Q. Was this tragedy avoidable?
A. Possibly. There was delay in accession because Pt. JL Nehru linked its acceptance to incorporation of Sheikh Abdullah led National Conference in the Maharaja’s power structure. In the track-2 parleys between Home Minister Sardar Patel and Maharaja Hari Singh everything had been worked out by the last week of September 1947 for smooth accession of J&K to India. A part of these details is already available in public domain. But Pt.Nehru’s uncalled for insistence on inclusion of Sheikh Abdullah in Maharaja’s government as a precondition for acceptance of accession by GOI proved disastrous. Maharaja Hari Singh had strong reservations on inclusion of Sheikh Abdullah at a time when the state faced serious internal and external security situation. The issue of Sheikh Abdullah’s inclusion could have been tackled after accession in a more peaceful situation. Had Pt. Nehru agreed to dehyphenate the accession issue the great tragedy could have been avoided.We also lost one-third of the territory also in the process, besides deaths of 38,000 innocent civilians.
Then there were other issues of not sending troops to Mirpur in time, which resulted in killings of over 17,000 people. Alibeg camp evokes horror similar to Auschwitz of Jews in Poland. No timely reinforcements were sent to Rajouri, Deva Vatala and other areas. This negligence led to loss of thousands of innocent lives.
Q. Have you worked on other themes too?
A. Yes. Oral history as an instrument in historiography fascinates me. I have published many original pieces on that. A few more works are in progress.
Q. You have a big personal library
A. Yes, close to 7,000 books. Once you are in serious research with wide-ranging reading interests, acquisition of books on a regular basis is quite natural.

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