The Legends-Development & Changes [Book Review]

Reviewed by Abdul Ali

The book, ’The Legends’ penned by Mr. Nisar Karim; an energetic and young enthusiast school teacher is highly appreciable at a time when book reading is receding fast. Books which are rarity in rural setup and that of Wakhi milieus across mountainous borders; which history and culture have been verbal storytelling and herdsman ship. Name of the book “development and changes”, itself insinuates change of vocation and means of livelihood of people over the course of time, bringing paradigm shift in lifestyle and outlook of these hillock tenants.

Abdul Ali
Abdul Ali

The book notes interesting origin of Ghulkin with arrival of two men from Darwoz (Afghanistan)  and Shigar(Biltistan),that later branched to  three sub clans bearing acronymic  names  after these persons. It also traces population of Gulmit with Tajikistan and Buduly clan to Nagar ancestor ship and lineage of Markhun population to Badkhashan. The same is said about Chipursan population-remix of Qergiz and Tajik.

Drawing on etymologies of the word “Ghulkin” as combination of Arabic and Persian, meaning thereby ‘giant’s revenge’ or ‘chained in revenge’ is itself an interesting historic insight. How the village folks have paid off the demand of first ever foreign masonry for building four homes? On completion of his assigned work, lo and behold his wage of labor had been; marrying to a beautiful girl of the village. But in store lied his consequent catapulting to Ghushtik Bushay; low lying entrance area and pathway to the author’s village; is reward or revenge in honor? This action overtly testifies the meaning of the village.

The proper settlement of Gojal with its principal village-Gulmit is attributed to Mir Shah Salim Khan from Cheprot, Hari from Ishkoman and Asgher from Qergiz, pedigree of these grew into tribes of Shumbi, Bhari, Hari and Mirgul respectively. Albeit tribes like Bakhti were named after Queens in Gulmit; the population grew not only vertically but horizontally stretched as far as to China Pamir. As two loins can’t be ruler of a jungle, same goes the story with Qutlogh, another contemporary of the ruler. Qutlogh got killed by Mir of Hunza and his sole surviving daughter was married to him who gave birth to Mir Muhammad Nazim Khan. A small hillock village near Sost has been named after him as Nazimabad.

The book chronologically narrates reigns of different mirs, which for sure had long history and profound impact on its people (for good or worse, readers to decide?). The succession of mirs  had been; Salim Khan II , Shah Sultan Khan, Shahbaz Khan, shah beg khan, mir Sani , khan Sani ( 1754), Khusruw khan(1750-90),Salim khan III(1790-1825) Shah khan(1845-1874), Safder Ali Khan(1886-91) Nazim khan(1892), Muhammad Nazim Khan(1892-1938),Ghazan khan Sani (1939-1945), Jamal Khan(1945-74).  The crown and throne never fell outside of their family sphere. Usually, transfers of the titles were preceded by gory fratricides; sowing bitter seeds, which with time ensued clashes among them. Public dissension or counterargument has no room and tantamount to invoking capital punishment.

Front cover of the book
Front cover of the book

The princely state Hunza [old name Kunjud or kunud (Turkish word meaning ‘place of natural resources’)] remained focal point for various big players like British, China and Russia. The Sri (Mir) got subsidy from China by siding with her in suppressing Yarkand insurgency. British captain Francis Young Husband was suspicious of Hunza siding with Russia labeled Sri (Mir Safdar Ali Khan) “a cur at heart and unworthy of ruling so fine a race as people of Hunza”. When British invaded it in 1892, Mir Safdar fled to China while Nazim Khan was crowned as ruler. Its nine hundred years long history culminated in dismantling its independent princely status in 1974 by the then head of state Zulifiqar Ali Bhutto. The Kunjutis being possessor of Sarmak, area surrounding Yarkand river land measuring 3000 acres during the reign of Mir Shah Salim Khan and losing it to Chinese boundary markers is another heart wrenching account in the book. The whole area is estimated to have exceeded twice the area of present day Hunza.  But this vast land along with Hunza, in turn has been tagged to Jammu and Kashmir under suzerainty of British undivided India under reign of Maharaja Ranbir Singh as its de facto ruler.

 Their suzerainty spanned and stretched even as far to Yarkand in China (Pamir, Dafdar, Raskam Qurghan, Ujadhbhai, and Azar).Trustworthy representatives (arbabs) with political acumen ship were appointed to maintain safety and security, law and order. People in every village unit were stratified according to their economic capacity for taxation purpose. Was there any state security or amenities? Although, there was no avoidance from compulsory taxation regime. Tax liability was mostly payable in kind. For taxation, the upper Hunza population were divided into three slabs according to their earning power; Husham, Tharqon and Bozkash. Like the first category were made to pay yearly tax of a sheep/goat, one full sieve wheat and Rs.7. The mirs used to send annual tribute to the MaharajaDurbar rather than spending ‘Inland Revenue’ on local populace.Gilgit and Kanjut remained vassal of Jammu and Kashmir from the time of Maharaja Ranbir Singh of Jammu and Kashmir until 26 October 1947.

But, late better than never, there had been change of heart and mind of the last rulers; who had opted for human friendly governance policies. Mir Salim Khan passed on his kingship (miree) to his youngest son Mir Ghazenfer Ali Khan, who assured him equal and just system for the subjected masses.

 A complete chapter has been earmarked for religious following among the people and sheds light at length on religious aspects against the backdrop of Aga Abdul Samad’s instructions. The visit of Aga Abdul Samad Shah Al-Hussaini [great grandson of Imam Hassan Ali Shah (AS)] to this area in 1922 is an historic one. Although he was an appointed investigative officer for China Kashgher case (a British ambassador got killed in China) of the then Indian British Government. On his way back, passing through this area, he reaffirmed and ingrained Ismailia doctrine in the heart and mind of these mountain people.

The author has gotten his hand on Persian version of his instructions on mundane and spiritual matters. Being from a spiritual hereditary lineage, he had the power to discern and draw clear lines between good and bad in all walks of life and dispel misperception about their faith, if any.  He asserted to hear with ear of heart, see through eye of mind as how to keep balance in spiritualism and materialism. He termed his guidelines as perennial tree, which taken care of will bear tasty fruit and enrich lives of followers. He likened this materialistic world attractive decorated shop and the other not-so-decorative shop (the hereafter), sinful acts to dark pit and right deeds with nature’s objective of truthful life. In nutshell, he conveyed the true philosophy of Ismailia school of thought straight to the heart of its followers. Warned the followers, “don’t compromise with your faith for the sake of material life and don’t sale your faith for the sake of material world”

 Development and change include; from single educationist Master Sultan Ali to extended school and library system, from a single bone-setter (Zafar Ullah Baig) to well established clinics and orthopedics , founding of Boys Scout and Girls Guide, establishment of ‘Religious and Educational Boards’, woman and village organizations, social welfare and natural conservation associations, micro credit and saving schemes. Change from; grinding stone-mill to electrical one, traditional oxen to tractor ploughing, rug waving to handicraft,  stony and bumpy alley to jeep-able roads, ground-well to piped water, orientation of people toward business (especially from China) and immigration also too far off lands, traditional subsistent earning and living to employments in variety  of new vocations and so forth. Women empowerment through affording an open environment and financial support enabled the gender’s entrance in different fields of their interests, like mountaineer Samina Baig and Cricketer Dina Baig. The book should have mentioned the other first ever persons like first female surgeon, first architect et al.

The book ends with emphatic note to village youths, assessing their weaknesses and potential strength to be reckoned with, calling them building block, future torch bearer, change agent etc. But with same stroke of pen, cautioned this stratum of costs and consequences of aberrations and wrong doings -alcoholism, non obedience to elders, and disloyalty to good traditions, deviance from moral and ethical values. Nelson Mandela has been idealized as true leader, who turned around apartheid and shattered Africans into a united nation. Bilal Qasim (a medical student), has reminded young generation of their status and standing and expected positive roles in the society, has befittingly quoted Che Guevara’s saying “a nation can never be finished by its people’s death, but it will be finished when the youth forget their identity”.

The writer’s effort is commendable, but leaves room for improvement. Books on history haven’t been left out without counter arguments. There might be claimants in this case too; those opposing views should have been accommodated. The proofreading, varied font size and lack of tab on grammatical structure has been poor. Some commonly used plural words (development, cattle) with s and some typographical errors and omissions give bad flavor to his honest endeavor. Come a digital era, such omissions and commissions are inexcusable.

It is highly suggestive to reprint in small size, a revised version with more relevant pictures. To make it part of library, it needs to be appended with more references. Given the omnipresent dot.com and social networking, it should be made freely accessible on the web.

The reviewer is an ACMA, works as Finance Manager in private sector in Gilgit. 

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