By Basharat Peer. Grade A+
I am a naturally curious person, and was looking for some good books on Kashmir to clear up some of my doubts, when I was offered this book to review. I am glad I accepted it, because Curfewed Night is easily one of the best books I have read this year.
Basharat Peer was a teenager when the separatist movement exploded in Kashmir in 1989. Over the following years countless young men, seduced by the romance of the militant, fuelled by feelings of injustice, crossed over the Line of Control to train in Pakistani army camps. Peer was sent off to boarding school in Aligar
h to keep out of trouble. He finished college and became a journalist in Delhi. But Kashmir—angrier, more violent, more hopeless—was never far away.
In 2003, the young journalist left his job and returned to his homeland to search out the stories and the people which had haunted him. In Curfewed Night he draws a harrowing portrait of Kashmir and its people. Here are stories of a young man’s initiation into a Pakistani training camp; a mother who watches her son forced to hold an exploding bomb; a poet who finds religion when his entire family is killed. Of politicians living in refurbished torture chambers and former militants dreaming of discotheques; of idyllic villages rigged with landmines, temples which have become army bunkers, and ancient sufi shrines decapitated in bomb blasts. And here is finally the old story of the return home—and the discovery that there may not be any redemption in it.
Lyrical, spare, gut-wrenching and intimate, Curfewed Night is a stunning book and an unforgettable portrait of Kashmir in war.
The book is the author’s own story. Basharat Peer describes his life in Kashmir from his birth to the time he becomes a successful journalist. But even after becoming a journalist, all he could notice when he looks around, hears things or thinks is Kashmir. Kashmir, his hometown; Kashmir ,the place where his parents lived; Kashmir which was known for its natural beauty and the Kashmir which was destroyed with the war between the militants and the Indian soldiers. We follow Peer right from his childhood, when he used to play with his brother and neighbours all day in a Kashmir which was called “Paradise On Earth”, to a time when the Kashmiris demanded freedom but were forced to meet with violence. This Paradise is reduced to a place where the people can not get out at night, where they can’t travel without carrying their identity cards, where unidentified bodies line up daily in hundreds and where parents are forced to accept a pittance as compensation for the wrongful death of their children. Parents are forced to send their children away for education. So was Basharat. He studied at Aligarh Muslim University and Columbia University. But he returned to his home to tell its story to the world.
First of all,I would say that the cover is awesome. A child peeping from a crack in the wall? Half the story of Kashmir.
The narration and writing itself is brilliant. The author keeps his tale simple, and keeps the reader interested through out the novel. But the prose is such that it will evoke a vehement response from all readers it touches.
Many poets and authors have been mentioned in the book. Their works, too, have been highlighted. Once such poem by Agha Shahid Ali has been quoted which I would like to mention:
The Doctor who treated a sixteen year old boy
Recently released from an interrogation centre asked,
‘Why didn’t the fortune tellers predict
The lines in his palm would be cut by a knife?’
After reading this book, I couldn’t control my curiosity and asked a friend who lives in Kashmir about how she feels about what is happening in Kashmir. Straight from the horse’s mouth, you know. At the risk of being accused for sedition, I am going to quote what she said:
“Had it been your brother, or for that matter any dear one of yours, God forbid, who would have been just like that, without any reason been picked up and tortured repeatedly, you would have hated India too.”
In reply to her statement, I would say yes. Completely and totally. I would have reacted in the same way the Kashmiris are. In fact, I salute all the Kashmiris for going through all this and still surviving.
This review is useless without an excerpt. Or two. Perhaps if you haven’t made up your mind already, this will convince you to PICK UP THIS BOOK FROM THE BOOKSTORE NOW.
My cousin, who was born in the early nineties on a day a gun battle was raging outside the hospital, played a game called ‘army-militant’. I watched him join his friends, carrying wooden guns and broken plastic balls stuffed with cloth meant to be hand grenades. They broke into groups and took combat positions. A child should ‘fire’ and the game began. They enacted the bloody drama that unfolded around them.
This left me aghast:
You were asked to remove your clothes, even your underwear. They tied you to along wooden ladder and placed it near a ditch filled with kerosene oil and red chilli powder. They raised the ladder like a seesaw and pushed your head into the ditch.
At times, they would not undress you but tie you to the ladder. You almost felt relieved until they tied your pants near the ankles and put mice inside. Or they burnt and legs with cigarette butts and kerosene stoves used for welding. They burn your flesh till you speak.They tied copper wire to your arms and gave high voltage shocks. Every hair on your body stood up. But the worst was when they inserted copper wire into my penis and gave electric shocks. They did it with most boys. It destroyed many lives. Many could not marry after that.
Another one which definitely needs a special mention is:
In a story ‘Khol Do’ he talks about a father finding his daughter in a hospital ward a few days after she goes missing during the sectarian violence. The doctor in the ward asks the father to open a window for his daughter. When she heard the doctor’s phrase ‘khol do’, the daughter drops her pants. She has been repeatedly raped and associates the phrase ‘khol do’ with the rapist’s command to undress.
To conclude, I would say that the book is non-fiction, an auto-biography of sorts. It is meant to be read slowly for it is not easy to digest. You won’t be able to just finish it, close the spine and go on with your life like nothing has happened. It’s emotional rape at the hands of a paperback, and I mean that as a compliment. It has many new stories, a lot of information you will wish you didn’t know, because that will upset your balance of right and wrong, and give rise to confusing, traitorous feelings towards your country. I am still not clear on why it’s happening. Why the mainland is fighting so much to keep them prisoners. Maybe they – we – have their own reasons, but whatever those reasons might be, I doubt I am going to sympathize with them.
Basharat Peer mentions in the book that he wanted to help Kashmir in some way. Maybe that is why he chose to become a journalist. He had mentioned in the book that one day, he would love to tell the world the realty about Kashmir. I think that the day has arrived. Congratulations, Mr. Peer! Your story is out and the world knows it.