By Shaik Zakeer Hussain
Like many youths, who grew up in Kashmir, during the beginning of the long and gruesome fight for secession in the 1980s, Basharat Peer, too, thought of slinging a Kalashnikov over his shoulder and fight against, what many Kashmiris think, a brutal occupation of their land and freedom.
Peer writes that he wanted to cross the ‘Line of Control’, get trained, and fight. However, his fancy romanticism with the gun, guerrillas, and their Russian made boots came to an abrupt end, when his grandfather, upon finding out his plan, calmly asked, ‘How do you think this old man can deal with your death?’ Peer writes, ‘His words hit me like the burst of a water cannon.’
Basharat Peer’s Curfewed Night (2010) is an intensely passionate memoir about the struggle for freedom and justice in what one former U.S president described as the ‘world’s most dangerous place.’ The story of Kashmir is set against the backdrop of Peer’s life and his life is interwoven with the melancholy of his homeland and its inhabitants.
Peer’s narrative takes the reader through the beautiful and striking landscape of Kashmir, the orchards of apples and apricots, the poplars, the willows, and the canoes over the Dal lake. A paradise on earth indeed, but one which has, ironically, a bit of its own hell.
The Kashmir described here is torn between the historical baggage and the incendiary politics of two nuclear armed countries – India and Pakistan. India’s armed forces have check-posts across this Kashmir, they search and monitor every movement, they barge into people’s houses at night, day, and noon. They rape brides on their first nights, they seek to control hearts and minds, but the people here cry out in unison – ‘Azaadi’.
While narrating the sufferings, which are mostly borne by Muslims, Peer also talks about the displacement of Kashmir’s indigenous Hindu population. The conflict has had painful consequences on them as they have become victims of circumstances.
The book is an excellent mélange of reportage and storytelling, a tradition I have always admired. It is a must read for anyone, who is interested in Kashmir, but, especially recommended for those, for whom jingoism takes precedence over reason and facts.
Shaik Zakeer Hussain is a Bangalore-based correspondent for the news website TwoCircles.net.
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