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The Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer is a novel read of its kind. It provides an intimate account of life in the 1990’s when insurgency and counter-insurgency engulfed the valley. The author, through his personal experiences, highlights the agonies of being born and living in a conflict situation like Kashmir. Most of the narratives about Kashmir have been centered on state, government and institutions; Peer provides a fresh look through the lives of ordinary men, women and children. His story is the telling account of human costs of the Kashmir tragedy.

The book gives a live account of emergence of separatist movement that erupted in Kashmir in 1989. Taking cue from his life-experiences he captures the hope and pathos of those days while engaging the reader throughout. He narrates how young boys- mostly from underprivileged sections- would cross border in hordes to receive arms training and indoctrination. Many among them would die fighting for the freedom of Kashmir leaving behind a trail of agony and inestimable social costs for the family and community. He discusses the uneasy silence of the curfew nights, the bone-chilling torture in the beautifully worded torture-camps (PAPA II), the intimidating check-posts, and the killing fields that have traumatized the ordinary Kashmiri since then. This narration is so beautiful and engaging that the reader actually gets a feeling of living through the pages.

The conflict has not ceased to exist; fields are still painted in crimson but a lot has changed.For example, the author mentions how with a gun shot whole village population would run away for life to the safe neighborhoods is not true anymore. Now neighborhoods would throng the encounter sites, ordinary young men and women would risk lives to save a guerilla caught in the encounter; now a whole population has risen against the state and make the distinction between combatants and non-combatants meaningless. People want to die once, instead of dying every other day in a state of suffocation.

In sharing his own stories in Delhi he leads the reader to judge the difference in living between two places: conflict-ridden Kashmir and peaceful Delhi. A beautiful contrast, indeed! Although Peer’s family was privileged in terms of his father being a senior bureaucrat in the state administration his tormenting experience of the conflict can make us assume how difficult it would have been for the underclass of the society- in this case Peer’s friends who were consumed in the war- to live in those times.

The author narrates how his own life totally changed in Delhi after the attack on the Indian Parliament. He discusses about the poor Kashmiri Pandits, another category of forgotten victims, who left Kashmir after the separatist movement took a violent turn. There are many terrible moments in this book but the most horrifying is the description of ‘PAPA-2’. It was actually hell and sends the reader into a shock, provided the reader is not otherwise interested in horror stories. The one who wants to know that much about “PAPA-2” and tests heights of oppression should read the book.

The author however ignores the complexity of the situation in Kashmir and tries to understand it through his own experiences despite the fact that author was better positioned than rest of the society in terms of education, connections with corridors of power and economic stability. These privileges aren’t enjoyed by a common individual.

I would say this book gives a vivid picture of Kashmir’s life since the onset of militancy from an ordinary Kashmiri’s point of view. It gives us a sense of how terrible life would have been in those circumstances while maintaining utmost objectivity by not being biased towards militants and security forcesin the process of narrating personal stories on a sensitive topic. The author signs off with a hope for the dawn of peace in the region when both the countries shake hands and line of control vanish.

Adeeba Ashiq is the student of Doon International School, Srinagar

One Comment

  1. Nice review. Intimate account of Kashmir saga