Satyajit Ray was one of the greatest film-makers of his time. In , he was awarded the Oscar for Lifetime Achievement by the Academy Basharat Peer was a teenager when the separatist movement exploded in Kashmir in 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.
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Early in this extraordinary memoir, the Kashmir-born writer Basharat Peer recounts the tense moments of a cricket match between India and Pakistan in Sharjah in Pakistan needs three runs to win, and India's Chetan Sharma is about to bowl the last ball of the match to Javed Miandad. Sharma bowls a full toss, expecting to catch Miandad unawares; the quick-thinking batsman whacks it for a six, winning the game for Pakistan.
The Valley of Kashmir erupts, cheering Pakistan. Nine-year-old Peer is one of them. This phenomenon, of Muslims living in India and failing what Norman Tebbitt would have called the cricket test, irritates many in India. India is democratic, unlike Pakistan; Indian women have freedoms their Pakistani sisters can only dream of; Indian universities and businesses accept Kashmiri men and women as students and professionals, but all Pakistan offers is weapons and training to become militants.
Why can't Kashmiris realise what's good for them, Indians wonder. To understand why, read Peer's fascinating personal journey, which shows why the Indian dream is in fact a nightmare for Kashmiris. Peer writes about squandered aspirations, numbing brutalisation, and the shattering of dreams. He talks of a cousin who crosses the border to become a militant briefly his own boyhood fantasy , and how his family reminds him of those who fight for freedom without violence - Mohandas Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, but also Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama - which shapes his own decision to become a writer proud of his Kashmiri identity.
The governing belief in India is that Kashmir or Jammu and Kashmir, as India calls the region is an integral part of India, and must remain so; it adds lustre to India's claim to be a secular democracy. There is legal basis to the Indian position, even though its moral underpinnings are lost: at Independence in , the Hindu ruler of Kashmir dithered over deciding whether to join Pakistan or India.
Pakistan sent tribesmen to gain control of Kashmir, and the ruler sought Indian help. India said it would help if Kashmir joined India. The ruler agreed, and the Indian army pushed the Pakistan-supported tribesmen back to what has now become the Line of Control. It promised to hold a plebiscite, a promise never kept. India claims subsequent elections in which Kashmiris have participated have rendered the plebiscite unnecessary; as Peer reminds us, many of those elections have been sham — either rigged, or boycotted.
From the s, India imposed puppet rulers in Kashmir, because local leaders did not always toe the line. In the s the Indian government blatantly rigged elections in Kashmir, disillusioning Kashmiris, who then openly sought azadi, or freedom. The militants — never a monolithic force - behaved abominably: they killed "informers", civilians, blew up buses, and in later years, became so radical as to impose strict Islamic rules on a tolerant, Sufi-inspired syncretic Kashmir, home of Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists.
Indian forces responded with brute force, alienating an entire generation. Peer documents those dreadful two decades, and that context explains the Kashmiri mood, including the current unrest. Pakistan has exploited the restiveness and encouraged the insurgents, and Peer interviews militants who have crossed the border for training. Pakistan's founding belief has been that Muslims cannot live in peace in the subcontinent "under Hindus", even if they claim to be secular.
Pakistanis can't reconcile with the idea of a Muslim majority state being part of the Indian union. What's missing in these polar arguments is the third option, of independence. Many Kashmiris want it, not merger with Pakistan — a point a recent survey conducted at the Royal Institute of International Affairs revealed.
Indian analysts argue that Pakistan won't allow an independent Kashmir to survive even for a day, and would invade.
They assert Kashmir is better off in India, even if its rule has been flawed. Kashmiris disagree, as is clear if you read the stories that Peer tells us. He meets a young bride raped by security forces on her wedding night; he talks to the loved ones of young boys picked up on suspicion of being militants and never seen again Peer quotes the late Kashmiri poet, Agha Shahid Ali, who wrote of "a shadow chased by searchlight running away to find its body" ; he listens to young men who say how they have been rendered impotent after torture by the Indian security forces; and he goes to the camps where Hindu refugees live, seeking out old teachers and friends, seeking a common bond.
Peer's prose is lyrical and moving. He describes the clear blue of Kashmiri skies beautifully. But he also adds the rat-tat-tat of Kalashnikovs, and the explosions of mines and grenades. Peer ends with hope: he describes the resumption of bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad a part of Kashmir under Pakistani control which reunites families. Hands seek out to clasp hands, and in those unions, Peer sees the Line of Control fade away.
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Curfewed Night: A Frontline Memoir of Life, Love and War in Kashmir by Basharat Peer
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Early in this extraordinary memoir, the Kashmir-born writer Basharat Peer recounts the tense moments of a cricket match between India and Pakistan in Sharjah in Pakistan needs three runs to win, and India's Chetan Sharma is about to bowl the last ball of the match to Javed Miandad. Sharma bowls a full toss, expecting to catch Miandad unawares; the quick-thinking batsman whacks it for a six, winning the game for Pakistan. The Valley of Kashmir erupts, cheering Pakistan. Nine-year-old Peer is one of them. This phenomenon, of Muslims living in India and failing what Norman Tebbitt would have called the cricket test, irritates many in India. India is democratic, unlike Pakistan; Indian women have freedoms their Pakistani sisters can only dream of; Indian universities and businesses accept Kashmiri men and women as students and professionals, but all Pakistan offers is weapons and training to become militants.
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Search: Title Author Article. Rate this book. Curfewed Night is a brave and unforgettable piece of literary reporting that reveals the personal stories behind one of the most brutal conflicts in modern times. Since , when the separatist movement exploded, more than seventy thousand people have been killed in the battle between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Born and raised in the war-torn region, Basharat Peer brings this little-known part of the world to life in haunting, vivid detail. Peer tells stories from his youth and gives gut-wrenching accounts of the many Kashmiris he met years later as a reporter. He chronicles a young man's initiation into a Pakistani training camp, a mother forced to watch her son hold an exploding bomb by Indian troops, a poet finding religion when his entire family is killed.
A s a young student in Delhi, Basharat Peer used to feel a sense of shame each time he walked into a bookshop. There were books written by people from almost every conflict zone of the age, but where were the stories of his own homeland of Kashmir? Some could be found in the work of the great poet Agha Shahid Ali, but in terms of prose narrative there was nothing in English but "the unwritten books of the Kashmir experience". Peer's Curfewed Night is an extraordinary memoir that does a great deal to bring the Kashmir conflict out of the realm of political rhetoric between India and Pakistan and into the lives of Kashmiris. Peer was only 13 in when Indian troops fired on pro-independence Kashmiris and, as he puts it, "the war of my adolescence started". It is a war that hasn't yet ended, though it has changed shape considerably in the last 20 years. One of the strongest sections describes how it felt to be a young teenager swept up by a movement with "Freedom" as its cry.
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