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A former Delhi-based journo writes his first book on homeland Kashmir.
[Text by Sumaira Samad; picture by Inigo Arza]
This is the memoir of young Kashmiri journalist Basharat Peer, recounting his youth in the troubled valley during the ’80s and ’90s.
A harrowing look at the political strife and armed conflict that has torn Kashmir apart over the last 30 years, the book is personal. The people, places and events Peer describes are his parents, neighbours and friends.
Yet, despite this intimacy, Peer’s narrative has no polemic, and sentimentality, self-pity, melodrama take a back seat.
Beginning in the years before the struggle, Curfewed Night invites the reader into a peaceful mountain paradise where the slow rhythms of village life make up one’s existence.
Peer lives a happy childhood, surrounded by a loving family and tight knit community. But this serenity is merely the glassy surface, hiding a quagmire beneath. The shadow of Kashmir’s turbulent history and unresolved conflicts never quite goes away, and even in Peer’s childhood, he knows that his home is one struggling for an identity.
Kashmir, Peer tells us, is defined negatively, in terms of what its residents do not want it to be. That is, Kashmiris are certain that they do not want their home to be swallowed up by a larger India that has failed to give them the autonomy, rights and the self-respect that they expected at the time of independence. Kashmir has become the purgatory of the ghosts of Partition.
Peer’s memoirs take readers on a journey exploring the hopes and frustrations of the Muslims of Kashmir, focusing especially on the youth and the path of armed struggle that they took to throw the yoke of Indian hegemony.
He shows us through the deeply touching stories of others — through mothers, sons, poets, militants — the complexities that are inevitably involved, refraining from presenting a Manichean picture of Muslims versus Hindus, or Islamic fundamentalists versus secularists.
The initial movement for independence, led by JKLF, began as a struggle for an independent, secular Kashmir, neither part of India nor Pakistan. It was also partly a class struggle; the majority of its members came from the lower middle and peasant classes. It was the struggle of a people who had over the years felt alienated from mainstream India, neglected and taken for granted.
This is the story of an agonised people whose lives have been torn asunder by factors beyond their control. Peer ends the book with a note of hope, closing with the introduction of a new bridge across the Line of Control.
Kashmiris, from both sides of the divide, cross this physical and metaphorical bridge, greeting each other with rousing welcomes.
[The author of this review lives in Lahore, Pakistan. A longer version has been published elsewhere]