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Yusuf Buch Great Son of Kashmir

By Manejeh Yaqoob

“In the passing of Ambassador Yusuf Buch, Kashmir has lost a formidable indigenous voice of reason and rationale. Since his peaceful passing to a better world,I’ve heard several kind words from generations of world voices describing him as a Distinguished Diplomat, Iconic Expert, Legendary Intellectual, Moral Compass, Over-Achiever, Meritorious,Mentor, Guiding Light, Resolute, Intelligent, Wise, Scholarly, Advisor, Brilliant star, Living Encyclopedia,Son of Soil and so much more.

He led a fulfilled life, a life that I know shall inspire generations to come. To have vision with the kind of clarity he had with unwavering commitment to truth and fairness, publicly for over 8 decades, with steadfastness, strength and courage despite all the challenges he was faced with, is indeed unique.

There can reams of paper that would probably only summarize his unique experiences, presenting a true chronicle of Kashmir’s history in the last 100 years. He died at the age of 98, but had a unique mastery of Kashmir’s history since we have known it.

I shall not venture today to write about Amb.Buch the seasoned and brilliant Diplomat, Intellectual or Socio-Political Scholar, but I want to share with all, the amazing family man he was, My Grand Uncle.

My earliest memory of him is from 1980, winter at Kashmir House, 5 Prithviraj Road, New Delhi. We were all in awe of him knowing of his achievements that spanned continents.His was a personality so charming and so graceful, it was magnetic. 

I was all of 5, pattering around in my blue dress with pansies and daises, when his older brother my other Grand Uncle Ghulam Naqashbund had arranged a photo shoot of the family on the terrace garden, since Uncle Yusuf had finally been able to return to briefly visit his family after a very long forced political exile spanning 30 years at the time. As I was posing for the pictures, he remarked gauging my confidence that I should consider modeling as a profession, which instantly not only catapult my confidence further but won me over as my favorite Grand Uncle. Such was his persona and instant connection to a 5 year old, who he inducted in his fan club for life in an instant.

In all his letters, emails and conversations, with me over the next 4 decades his profound love and affection for each member of the family always shone through. Ironical that he never truly had a family that he lived with most of his life, but he never ceased to provide family values and guidance to his extended family.

As a son, I saw in him the most deeply obedient, caring, compassionate offspring who revered his beloved mother with all his spiritual might. He was clearly the mothers favorite. More so, since he was the one she pined for the most. The mother was a very progressive lady. Living mostly apart from her husband who traded in the then Bombay, she was entrusted with not only caring for the family, but also ensure quality education for the children that she strived for from the many windows of her Kalashpora mansion against several odds where her cousins and extended family almost revolted towards her stance of western education of the Buch family. She was a remarkable lady, deeply spiritual who overcame the pain of separation from her worthy son, in actually achieving a level of literacy wherein she could write him letters. For years, all he had as communication with the family was letters .The mother would have the letters read to her, again and again and then literally memorize them, and stare at them, until one day she gathered the strength to start writing one, on that blue airmail. What the two conversed through the letters between a highly literate and just about literate ends was fluid motherhood on one and a deep longing for the mother on the other. There was seldom a conversation where he failed to pay some tribute to his mother until the last time we met in Sept of 2018.

As a brother, he shared his deep affection for his sister in most conversations we had. Reminiscing the times she spent in New York with him, he often remembered minute details like where it happened, how it happened, all her reactions associated with the memory. After her tragic death at a young age, he embarked on a journey to pay lasting tributes to her memory and legacy in various ways. Whether it was serving as a mentor and guide to her sons, or creating a trust in her name for educational grants, he kept true to his values and not only missed her, but found ways to effectively channelize the brotherly love to actionable outcomes that helped serve as a means to better other lives. Very often he would share nostalgic tales of times she had visited him in New York, and places they had visited and experiences they had. Although much of their life, they hardly met, he distinctly remembered all times he spent with her. For him, the time that she had recommended to pack sweaters in the small bag he took with him during his arrest (it was April and he was convinced the separation would not be more than a few weeks, so a sweater would not be necessary), to the regular letters through which they kept in touch over the years, the brother-sister relationship was a chronicle of sibling values, that anyone would love to pass on to their offsprings.

His relationship with his brothers also bore the stories that one can derive history from. All three of them shared love for  English literature, Persian poetry, playing chess, and intellectually opining on various world matters. In being witness to their conversations one could learn an ocean of information. Whether it was Saadis romanticism, or the tragic symbolism of Keats, or opinions about the socio political situations anywhere in the world, the conversations were astute, deep thinking and full of questioning and learning from one another. Uncle Yusuf and Uncle Naqashbund spoke on the phone for hours when both were well into their 90s and I wondered often how much they could talk? And about what?After all, one does not really see siblings having long drawn conversations every single day about anything and everything. They were the best of friends, that not only cared deeply for one another but were also blessed in sharing various ideologies and had very similar interests. 

He connected with all his nieces and nephews, individually leaving a strong mark on their identity. In him, I witnessed each one of them having the highest reverence of him, and in him I saw deep rooted and caring affection. He also understood each one of them very well as individuals and would often remark at being blessed in having an extended family that was diverse and spread across the continents like a string of pearls, yet connected well with the bonds of longing and love for one another. Although many of them did not get to see him as often, and many saw or met him rarely, the relationship they shared was never diluted by the pain of forced separation. He would often remark to me, how he felt my mother spoke like a 19 year old on the phone (the voice of a young girl)and how in his eyes, she was always the 3 year old he had in his lap when he was torn away from his home. Whenever we met, the love was obvious and he never ceased to ensure she was doing ok. Sometimes, we would try to speak to one another in Kashmiri and he would often stop and question me, and test my knowledge on some words. He would be delighted if I passed and disappointed in my failure. This was a language that he got to speak for only about 1/3rd of his life, yet he maintained his hold on it, right to his last days. To him language was inherent to identity and he believed our language was testimony for our existence and resistance.

Another remarkable talent he had, was to understand relationships. When I got married in 2004, he had the best advice for me, which I not only cherish and live by, but also hold it as some sort of a motto to live a married life by. He said- “the beauty of this relationship is your endless devotion to one another”. That is so true. A complex relationship can be made beautiful by that simple motto. To stay devoted.

He reminisced very often about Kashmir. About it’s expansive and vivid beauty , it’s unique cross roads culture and it’s struggling socio-economic conditions.About how his parents (especially his mothers)astute stance on education at the turn of the century for the four siblings changed the course of history for the family. His pictographic memory coupled with deep eloquence of expression was remarkable during all conversations we had. When he spoke of the “Nallae Mer”, the waterbody comparable to the Grand Canal in Venice on the banks of which their Kalashpora home was located, there was fluid history that traversed the conversation. His times in Aligarh, Pakistan, Europe, New York City were studded with being witness to insides of historical events, that one only gets to read or hear of, but rarely being witness to. He often spoke about Kashmir’s cultural connections to Central Asia and extensively talked about his visits to Samarkand, Yarkand, Bukhara, Khatlan, Khiva and other places on the ancient silk route. There was never a dull moment or a moment one would not learn something new from these conversations.

Last week, as we drove from Islamabad to Muzaffarabad via Murree and Nathia Gali to fulfill his last wish, to be buried in Azad Kashmir, I felt like I knew the region fairly well, although I had never been there before and he had not visited in about 20 years, his conversations captured every detail with such visual beauty, it became a part of my living memory which gave me a strange sense of being acquainted with the region.

He came back to finally rest at the place he deeply loved, as a revered hero that shall inspire generations to come. Beneath a pine tree,  besides his mentor (Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah), adjacent to his dearest counterpart Khwaja Hassan Khurshid, with two Chinar trees in the back, surrounded by snow capped mountains and a library/reading room full of books and newspapers, with people of all ages learning from them right besides.At the university in AJK, a chair is proposed in his name, along with a scholarship in central asian studies. It could not be a more symbolic resting place. 

Forced exile and painful separation from his loved ones did not limit his brilliance, nor his spirit that knew no bounds. In his story is the example of limitless human potential, resolute character, being on the right side of history with all its challenges and glory and the steadfast belief in being “free” – Azad. 

A story of every Kashmiri.

Rest In Peace and absolute power my dearest Uncle Yusuf. Your guidance helped shape my identity and in me, you shall live until I do, and I know far far longer than that in so many stories of courage and brilliance.”

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This picture is of his resting place beneath the pine tree, in front of the masoulem of Mirwaiz Yousuf Shah in Muzaffarabad, AJK. On the right is the masoleum of KH Khurshid, which houses a reading room/library in its ground floor.

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Picture from March 2018, during our visit to New York City. My mother, Rifat Jabeen to his left, and myself to his right.

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