Monday, January 11, 2010


Curfewed Night

Basharat Peer

In many ways, this is a disconcerting book. Kashmir is never an easy subject for us Indians. All nations have events in their history they are never proud of. We have a sneaking suspicion Kashmir is one such issue for us. Basharat Peer takes us right to the heart of it and suddenly we feel like we have nowhere to hide.

Peer is a journalist, born and brought up in Kashmir, growing up at the height of the insurgency. He moves out of his native land to study in Aligarh Muslim University and later study and work in Delhi. Yet he can never forget his roots. Kashmir draws him back to tell its story that surprisingly has never been told before.

Peer describes a land of incomparable beauty – lakes and mountains and fields that have drawn invaders and tourists alike for centuries. A land that has been torn apart by two nations fighting over it, both not wanting to give up its magic to each other or to the Kashmiris themselves. He writes of resentment against the Indian army and its paramilitary forces, a stern, scary presence that has become part of everyday Kashmiri life; of antipathy towards India who is never more than an external force; of bitterness against a fight that has sucked away the best young men of an entire generation. There are events described that are hard to digest for any liberal minded Indian – the rape of a young bride by Indian paramilitary forces, the terrible torture chamber of Papa 2, the genocide at Gawkadal Bridge. And there is the other side; of a militancy that has moved from being a home-grown freedom struggle to something more akin to the global Islamic jihad; of an Islam that has changed form from a tolerant Sufi version to a far more radical one; from a population now as afraid of the freedom fighters as the Indian forces.

Curfewed Night provides quite a stunning viewpoint of a local Kashmiri caught in the crossfire. As a liberal minded Indian I was horrified at the harsh reality of Indian forces in Kashmir; of being seen as an occupying force; of the futility of trying to hold on to a land that never really wanted to be part of you. Yet there was anger too… at Peer and his friends cheering for Miandad’s last ball six off Chetan Sharma (arguably the most humiliating defeat India ever suffered), at Peer’s cool acceptance of Indian hospitality at Aligarh and Delhi universities and yet never acknowledging India as his nation too, at making the Pandits’ exodus from Kashmir just a footnote in the valley’s trauma. But Peer is persuasive enough to make the horror of the military cruelty far outweigh the anger against the anti-Indian sentiment.

One only wishes Peer was a better writer. His obvious subjectivity and experiential narrative is imbued with heightened emotion. Yet he never manages what Arundhati Roy so effortlessly does – intensify the passion with the magic of her language. Curfewed Night is worth reading because it is a story that deserves telling, and because it has not been told before. Read it as a good piece of subjective journalism. If you are looking for literature on the same subject, you are better off reading Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown. The Kashmir experience definitely needs a better storyteller.

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