Reminiscences Of Late Maharaj Kaul
The earliest memory that I have of late Maharaj Kaul is that when after attending a chemistry class in Amar Singh College, Srinagar, India, in 1957, given by Prof. Gupta, he asked me whether it was organic or inorganic chemistry that we were taught. Such detachment with the practical matters is very unusual with human beings. But detachment is a very important factor for unusual minds as deep down they are almost continuously focused on certain things while ignoring others. Little would people then have thought that Maharaj would grow up to be such an independent and thoughtful person that he became later. In college he was not known much for anything or even known much. He lead a sort of a private life. The same personality features persisted throughout his life, in which he looked at the world and life essentially through a private perspective.
In 1968 when being interviewed by an Immigration And Naturalization agent for the immigration visa I had applied for he told me that a namesake of mine had entered this country earlier, suspecting some identity foul play. I immediately told him that the namesake in question was my friend and that he studied mechanical engineering in Chandigarh, India. This correct reference from me wiped off the possibility of a fraud having been committed by either of us. With the information that I acquired that Maharaj was in U.S. I kept track of him as much as I could, without actually being in contact with him. I heard of his moving from mechanical engineering to structural engineering and working for G.E. Also, I came to know of his passion for social justice. Shabhana Azmi’s tour of U.S. with the play Meri Amrita saw Maharaj pursing the controversial cause of treating Muslims with the same dignity and open-mindedness as we would Hindus. Kashmiri Pandit community in U.S. thought that because Muslims had treated and were continuing to treat Kashmiri Pandits unfairly in the continuing saga of Kashmir Problem, Shabhana Azmi did not deserve deferential treatment. But Maharaj’s conviction and independence weathered his being cast as a pariah.
In 1999 during my visit to San Francisco I could not hold any longer my urge to contact Maharaj. I must have put him in a daze when I called him. He offered to come to the place where I was staying and take me to his apartment. Seeing him after a 33 year absence I saw essentially the same looks, only somewhat weathered with time and shocks. It appeared that he had undergone some unhappy experiences. When in his apartment we got launched in conversation about our community. He wondered what made Kashmiri Pandits so arrogant when they had no significant achievements to their credit in the recent history. I subscribed to the same line of thought. While talking with me about various topics external to us I could not refrain from seeing his personal anguish. I knew he had just gone through a divorce and that is why he was living in an apartment. I felt very gratified that we had met and the possibilities of exchanging ideas with him were exciting. Throughout the meeting he was courteous, humble, and to the point. Though he did not appear to be an artistic personality but his concerns seemed to be larger than his life. He dropped me back at my place and we made the commitment of keeping in active contact with each other.
The next several months saw us exchanging emails, dealing with politics and our community. I had a feeling that I was communicating with a sincere man, though at odds with my viewpoint on some issues. I could take intellectual differences as long as they were the products of genuine attempts to understand things under scrutiny. His mind may have had some eccentric leanings but his heart was in the right place. The visit of Dr. K.N. Pandita to U.S. opened doors to the possibility of our working together on a project. Pandita was a well-know history scholar of the Central Asian countries and who meant a lot to Maharaj. We worked on the project of Pandita’s speech to mostly Kashmiri audiences, on Kashmir Problem, in New York City, which was to be followed by similar speeches in a few other cities. But when Maharaj came to know that I was going to use KOA’s (Kashmir Overseas Association) help in the project he became very opposed to that idea. He believed that KOA thought harshly about Kashmiri Muslims in connection with the plight of Kashmiri Pandits. I was greatly puzzled with his understanding because Kashmiri Muslims had contributed, directly and indirectly, to the suffering of Kashmiri Pandits. But Maharaj would not be budged in his thinking. I could have easily dropped K.O.A. from the K.N. Pandita project but the extent of Maharaj’s unreasonable thinking disappointed me greatly. This resulted in the death of the project and breaking up of my relationship with Maharaj. I felt the more dejected in the split as I had dreamed of reconnecting with him after decades of silence between us and took the initiative to re-forge our connection. I still feel we should have been able to survive our difference of opinion. But life often works by spontaneous emotions than by carefully crafted understandings.
Later I came to know more about Maharaj’s social work. Besides his believing in treating Muslims in India better than they were, he believed, I have been told, passionately in the rights of women. He did not even spare his family from his beliefs. He pursued the cause of the education of girls in the various states of India, which of course would pave way for their equality with men in society. He was interested in other ideas and causes. Some of them were perused under the umbrella India Relief And Education Fund (IREF). Someone with a detailed knowledge of the full spectrum of the causes he championed should come forth and let our children know what all he did and that someone like him lived in our community. These things are important to do as human life is a moving tapestry of history.
A good life has departed just at just the age of 68. Knowing his past we know that he had some more good work left in him to do. He showed a lot of character in his independence and a lot of compassion in his social work. For me our friendship never had a chance of fruition. Our brief reunion was just a spark in a long twilight. Maybe, when we meet again at where he has gone, we will after all have an uninterrupted resumption of our friendship.