Publisher: Random House
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Kashmir eludes all. It does not lie in the old movies. It does not reside in declarations of Mughal emperors. It escapes the imagination that tries to pin it down as a burning wound of terror on the nation’s visage. If it’s essence to be captured, only a son of the Kashmiri soil can do it. Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night is an honest effort at attempting what should have been attempted a long time ago. It goes beyond the political rhetoric that envelopes Kashmir and is the authentic story of a ravaged land that continues to labour and breathe.
In a masterful marriage of memoir and reportage, Peer narrates the tale of his homeland and its people. Personal experiences are woven seamlessly into the recounting of greater events. Stories from his childhood sit next to interviews with victims and survivors of the decades of violence. He speaks of his experiences as a child and then a teenager being swept away by the cries of “Freedom”; being tempted to join one of the many political outfits of the time but taking the practical path of a good education in Delhi and returning to his beloved home as a journalist.
The book is a labour of love, a proof of steely determination to make the voice of his people heard. He recounts tales of brutality, repression and violence; stories that became an everyday occurrence and shockingly absorbed into daily routine. The descriptions of torture, rape and murder assault and numb the reader but Peer soldiers on. In what is one of the most chilling passages in the book, he describes the Gowkadal massacre where hundreds of innocent people were gunned down by the all-powerful CRPF personnel who terrorise the region at will, as much as the jihadis do.
Peer captures Kashmiri life in its everyday ordinariness, where the ordinary makes the reader cringe. He speaks of thousands of lives whose development has been arrested. The daily grind of police checkpoints, the identity searches, the unwanted visits from army personnel, the missing people, the uprooted families, everything stunted in the shadow of fear.
Even as he speaks of his own time as a student in Delhi, learning to negotiate his way around the capital as a Kashmiri, he speaks for a region alienated from the rest of the country; a people for whom the democratic ideal that the country seems to cherish is a ghostly idea, intangible and unachievable. Peer’s writing is lyrical and heartfelt and his prose is moving. It is a masterpiece of conflict writing and valuable more so because of the absence of voices from Kashmir in literature. Even though he recounts tales of horror and shattered lives and dreams, he ends the book on a hopeful note when he describes resumption of bus services between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad. The message seems to be clear, politics is a game played between power centers, and ultimately Kashmir belongs to its people.