Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Book Review: Unmasking Kashmir by Sonali Kumar

Unmasking Kashmir – a bureaucrat reveals is a memoir by the first ‘outsider’ lady IAS officer who was allotted the J&K cadre Sonali Kumar written along with her son Prasenjeeet Kumar.
Having served in J&K for nearly 37 years, sometimes along with her husband Dr Arun Kumar (IAS), she has deep insight into the working of the bureaucracy in Jammu and Kashmir. From contentious tales of getting transferred over Biryani to personal grudges overpowering merit, she has much to reveal about each of her postings.
Each chapter in the book reads like a perplexing puzzle where the reader continues to root for a fair solution but instead gets a taste of the rot in the administrative circles of J&K. The book reveals scandalous details of the political overtones of each administrative action. One sees Jammu and Kashmir change under different heads of the state while the “Outsider’s curse” continues to the author.
Some incidents mentioned were just too interesting to read like the ‘Shopping with the President’s daughter’ or Sonali’s trip to Pakistan wearing traditional Indian attire and a Bindi. But instead of focusing on herself in particular, the general overtone of the book is regarding the discrimination IAS officers from other parts of India face in Jammu and Kashmir that remains in controversy for one thing or the other. Through a plethora of first-hand experiences, she brings the attention to how corrupt the system had become in J&K where a clerk in the legislative assembly rose to be the chief secretary and succeeded in creating a cadre parallel to the IAS without any protest.
But, on the other hand, while reading the memoir one can easily sense the bias of approach where the protagonist of the story, the writer herself is always right in all situation, is just an honest officer trying to promote development in Jammu and Kashmir while all who question her either have personal grudges or view her as an outsider. One chapter, especially where she compares the condition of bureaucrats in Leh with that of the army and makes the army seem like freeloaders getting all sorts of comforts while bureaucrats are left to fend on their own shows her lackadaisical approach towards understanding and portraying the situation as is.
It is also something that would raise eyebrows and make the reader wonder whether she has been honest in approach while putting her thoughts to print. Some chapters are weaved beautifully while the writing style of others showed emotional frustration more than a recollection of memories.

Basic Details of the Book:

Paperback, 256 pages
Published by Manas Publications

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