There is something distinct and inherently powerful about the concept of identity, isn’t there? Something that can cause a whole generation to sacrifice its future in its name? Basharat Peer’s poignant ‘Curfewed Night’ is as much a chronicle of Kashmir’s conflicted past and uncertain future as it is a love song to the paradise valley of his childhood.
The book’s relentless and breathless narrative is perhaps deliberate, maybe an attempt to drive home the urgency of the situation. After all, by most estimates, more than a hundred thousand lives have been lost since the inception of the conflict in the late 80s. Tragedy is…we are no more closer to a peaceful solution than we were at any point in the past.
Peer recounts his relatively peaceful childhood in the early 80s in the idyllic northern state. Then, with the peoples’ growing discontent with Indian governance, arrived the militant freedom fighter with his Kalashnikov and things were never the same since.
A vicious circle of violence was unleashed in the state, with the youth of the time idolising the freedom fighters. Peer himself makes no bones about the fact that he wanted to pick up the gun in the name of freedom and identity. His father’s wisdom prevailed and Peer left the state to pursue his education.
Much of the book’s content is a result of conversations with people he returns to after the completion of his studies. These stories, all heart wrenching and tearful, have similar themes, about missing sons and fathers, massacred relatives, constant excesses of the Security forces, the loss of innocence and a pitfalls of being caught in the cross-fire, when all these people had wanted in the first place was to be left alone, wanting to be free to live in the way they were accustomed to.
A particular observation of the author that I remember from the latter part of the book is about kids in Kashmir playing their own version of ‘chor-police’, called ‘militant-army’, with discarded weapons that the children found lying around.
If you are looking for objective analysis and intricate political dissection of the Kashmir issue, with possible solutions, this isn’t the book for you. This is a deeply moving and personal tale of a home that no longer exists, of lives unnecessarily lost, of a colossal ongoing tragedy. This is clearly a human document, a book meant to be a Kashmiri voice, saying ‘enough!’
All in all, this book is a must read for all.
“Beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful”, in the words of Khushwant Singh.
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