Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Death in the Vale

Monday, Nov. 10, 1947


"Kashmir without an equal—Kashmir, equal to paradise!" generations of Indian pilgrims have chanted. But the destruction that wasted India did not spare Kashmir. Last week Kashmir, the paradisal valley, smoked with two kinds of hellish fury: war and its blinder brother, massacre. 

"Free Kashmir." All through the summer, Kashmir's waddling, toss-purse Hindu Maharaja Sir Hari Singh had twisted & turned between India and Pakistan. When armed tribesmen from Pakistan's northwest invaded last month, Sir Hari at last threw out his be jeweled arms to India. 

In Moslem Karachi, Pakistan Governor General Mohamed Ali Jinnah raged at the news. He ordered Pakistan troops, under British Lieut. General D. D. Gracey, into Kashmir. The order was not carried out, for in New Delhi British Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck threatened to withdraw British officers from Pakistan's Army. 

The raiders from Pakistan were amazingly well equipped. They used automatic guns, mortars,. 3.7-in. field guns, and even light tanks and flamethrowers. Troops of the Indian Dominion, flown in to hold the Maharaja's capital at Srinagar, the down-at-heel "Venice of the Orient," tried strafing the invaders from Spitfires of the Indian Air Force. But the raiders were through the outlying passes now and inside the lovely Vale of Kashmir itself. They pressed closer on Srinagar, and, on the march, proclaimed Azad Kashmir—Free Kashmir. 

"Is Pakistan Too Weak?" Even more ominous were the reports that the blind butchery of neighbor by neighbor had reached Kashmir. Pakistan heard that 50,000 Moslems had been slaughtered by Hindus. British officials said that 100,000 fleeing refugees from Kashmir and nearby Jammu had crowded south into the still reeking Punjab. 

Heretofore, British and Europeans had been fairly safe. But they were no longer safe in Kashmir. Mahsud tribesmen burst into a hospital at Baramulla last week, killed a British officer, his wife and two nuns. 

Rather late, the Maharaja of Kashmir took measures to prop up his throne. He released from 15-month imprisonment the revered leader of the Kashmir Congress (India) Party, 6 ft. 4 in. tall Sheik Mohamed Abdullah, a Moslem but a follower of India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. 

The Maharaja made Abdullah his prime minister, promised to be a constitutional ruler in future; then the Maharaja lit out for the relative safety of his other princely state, Jammu. In New Delhi this week Prime Minister Nehru called for a U.N. plebiscite, shouted: "Is the Pakistan Government too weak to prevent armies from marching across its territory to invade another country?" 

Sex & Christianity. Britons in Kashmir began to pack. At the Srinagar Club there were tea dancing and dinner jackets as usual, but the residents were signing up for planes and road convoys that would take them south, like Sir Hari Singh. One trouble was the pet dogs, the Lhassa terriers, Afghan hounds and Pomeranians. Transportation was short, and, it turned out, there were more dogs than Britons on the evacuation list.

At the club, the tension unavoidably brought out personality. A somewhat thyroid spinster from Lahore passed around the manuscript of a sex novel she had been working on. One handlebar-mustached old colonel, who had spent 40 seasons in Kashmir, refused to leave. Said he: "Good God, no! I'll just pull my houseboat over another mile or so and forget the trouble." The Hindu pianist who played an Indian version of boogie woogie at the houseboat-cabaret Bluebird had a different solution. He bought a new, heavy, imported Scotch tweed suit with heavy overcoat and tweed cap. Asked if he were not afraid of the approaching Moslem tribesmen, he giggled loudly, exclaimed: "Lord, no! I have become a Christian."

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