Monday, December 29, 2008

Book Review - Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer

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Book Review - Curfewed Night, Basharat Peer

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]


Putra Bertam[MALAYSIA] said...

Where can i buy this good book?

Mayank Austen Soofi said...

Perhap you may check out any good bookshop in your town. Else, order from the Internet.

Eye For India said...

The reason why Indians fail to understand the Kashmiri sentiment is because Indians themselves are made up of many types and have largely managed to etch an identity for themselves within the Indian framework. The reasoning is that if everyone else can, why can't the Kashmiris Muslims from the valley?

aranibanerjee said...

In India there are atleast a dozen such radical groups who fight the Indian state or mainstream without selling themselves off to mad mullahs in a banana state. I'd love to read a Chattisgarhi expat write something equally mushy and stereotypical--idyllic central Indian village life destroyed by Salwa Juloom!

आवारा - যাযাবর - آطارا - Vagabond said...

You take any state of India and you'll find someone or other fighting to secede from the Union. Some of them become hotspots sometimes.
Kashmiri seperatists are no different except that J&K shares borders with Pakistan and it is easy for ISI to extend manpower(military), material, training and financial support to them.
If it was Bihar or Karnataka in place of Kashmir the situation would have been similar.
Instead of Masood Azhars, Veerappan would have been apple of ISI eys.
And some Kannada Peer e.g. Ramachandran Bhanupriyam Antaradesham Priyamvadam Shetty would have written similar "mushy and stereotypical--idyllic" tome about destruction of Sandalwood Forests and Udupi stalls

Sherebanu said...

Did you attend the Jaipur Lit Fest? Peer was being interviewed by Tarun Tejpal who tried a few times to get him to say that he was Indian first. He refused. I really really think of myself as a Kashmiri, he insisted. Pretty cool I thought.

rayees said...

Indians will never be able to understand Kashmiris. I think one who says that this book is about the destruction of Sandalwood forests should read it as a human.. I met a lot of Kashmiri people And I think they dont consider themselves as Indians..
This book is not simply a book it has a value because it ha sthe truth written inside..

naresh said...

I bought this book, as I realy wanted to know the ideology of the 'tormented Kashmiri', but even though there are sad stories of young students taking up arms and innocent victims of Indian army atrocities, this book never seems to go any deeper than the writers love for his homeland and his anxiousness to write this book(I think he should've waited till he became a little more mature).