Last week in book world, I travelled with Basharat Peer to Kashmir, the most militarized zone in world. Peer leads the reader into the warmth and comforts of his privileged childhood, as the son of a bureaucrat, grandson of a village school teacher (as Kashmiri introductions go, you are the son of, and grandson of…). Idyllic childhood days, marked by Eid celebrations and making homemade ice-creams with his brother (by mixing icicles with milk and sugar) remain dotted with a sense of alienation bordering resentment towards India. Cricket matches between India and Pakistan, imply cheering for Pakistan. A cricket match between India and any other country, implies cheering for the other country. Peer traces how Kashmir, always restive, transforms into a site of relentless, brutal, all-pervasive war that permeates and dehumanizes each living being it comes into contact with – militant, military or the “innocuous innocent”.
The Curfewed Night weaves a stirring account of Kashmir over the last three decades, an account intimately woven with Peer’s childhood, youth and career as a journalist. In this account, there is no euphemism of political unrest; Peer describes a state of perennial war. Militants who are martyrized, love-lorn Pakistani infiltrators, teenaged boys who sport Kalashnikovs because they must and because it is cool, cousins who cross the border to come back doomed with short lives, teachers and friends who flee, uncles in paranoia, mothers mobilizing for “disappeared” sons, boys turned into human grenade launchers by the army. Heavy militarization has thus displaced, dispossessed, deprived and denied any semblance of a human life. Indelibly etched in my mind is Peer’s narration of a Kashmiri writer’s story called the “New Disease”. Every man in Kashmir walks up to a gate or a door, pauses for a moment and then turns away and walks. So internalized is this routine of frisking and searching that unless he is frisked and searched at the gate or door of his house, no man passes through. The writer advises that the only cure for this New Disease is that family members must frisk and search their men as they enter their house.
Peer thus paints Kashmir today as dialectically a place of great beauty – of walnut trees, apple orchards and chinars, a serene dal lake, and women in bright pherans, and as a site of tanks, kalashnikovs, ashes, rubble, charred skeltals of bridges and buildings, and Papa-2.
In my readings over the last year, I have come across Agha Shahid Ali’s poems from A country without a postoffice, which hauntingly beautiful as they are, barely scratched the surface of my understanding given the lack of familiarity with metaphors and colloquial usages. As Peer himself repeats, there are very few accounts – sociological, journalistic book form or literary – on the violence in Kashmir. Peer is thus an important voice in the Kashmiri separatist movement.In those moments that he lays bare his vulnerabilities, he reveals his great courage and conviction in telling this account.
Questions that arise:
- Having read “Do you remember Kunan Poshpora”, which narrates the harrowing account of over 50 women who were brutally sexually assaulted by Indian armed forces in the villages of Kunan Poshpora, one wonders about the voids within which Kashmiri women exist. Peer’s account, though giving voice to mothers who fight for disappeared sons, and women like Mubeena the bride who was barbarically raped by the BSF on the day of her wedding, remains primarily an account of Kashmiri men (and arguably of the Kashmiri middle-class as my colleague Rohit Varman points out). As the account of Kunan Poshpora reminds us, in a highly patriarchal society like that of Kashmir, women are reluctant to speak of brutalities and sexual assaults from fear of being stigmatized and bearing dishonour for their families. Rohit, in personal communication, rightly pointed out, that here lies the problem with our social fabric which continues to hold on to such regressive values cast in sharp relief in these times of conflict.
- While Basharat Peer does, with great sincerity, pursue the cause of Kashmiri Pandits and their exodus, his account remains predominantly of a Kashmiri Muslim’s account of the war, with the pandits becoming unfortunate victims as bystanders. I am curious to read a similarly highly skilled, well-researched account of the Kashmiri Pandits.
Books I would like to read after this:
- Homage to Catalonia – Geroge Orwell
- More of Agha Shahid Ali
- Accounts of Kashmiri Pandits. Immediately perhaps: Rahul Pandita on Our Moon has Blood Clots
Ways this book influences me:
- It’s a writer’s obligation to tell stories with the courage and conviction that Peer has
- While uploading this post, I was going to categorize the post under the category of “India”. But I correct myself. In deference to Peer and the Kashmiri’s call for Azadi, this post gets the distinct category of writings on “Kashmir”.
Thanks to Kangana for her link to a recent article by Peer: