Basharat Peer. Curfewed night: One Kashmiri journalist’s frontline account of life, love, and war in his homeland. Simon and Schuster, 2010.
Curfewed Night was published in 2008. It is not just a memoir that catalogues the life of well-known journalist Basharat Peer, but also a true depiction of the Kashmir conflict. He narrates in the book that as a student at Delhi University when he found himself walking into a bookstore looking for literature on Kashmir, he couldn’t find the desired literature. He desired stories of his hometown that would elucidate the carnage that history had left behind. He felt the grave absence of Kashmir in the stories that were being stated about it. It was then that he decided to write a story about Kashmir. Kashmir, the home he had to flee from. The home where he had experienced extreme surveillance but a place which was home nevertheless. In 1990, Peer was only 13 when Indian troops opened fire on pro-independence Kashmiris as he narrated in the book, “the war of my adolescence started”. It is a war that hasn’t yet ended, though in the last 20 years it has considerably altered the shape of the conflict. When the writer was 14, he and his friends approached the commander of JKLF and asked to be signed up. The commander laughed them away. Peer family wasn’t aware of the fact and they got to know later about what all happened.
The young Basharat came to a contract with his father that he would wait a few years before making a final decision whether or not to sign up, and in the intervening time, he would study. Freedom fighting groups, his father pointed out, were commanded by educated men. It was from a very initial age that he had a sense of the alienation and bitterness that most Kashmiri Muslims felt and had against Indian rule. In a strongly personal account of Kashmir, Basharat describes the conversion of Kashmir from a land of enormous natural beauty, into one where armored cars and soldiers were now forming a threatening shadow on the once tranquil landscape. According to the writer, the night of January 20, 1990 marked a watershed in the demand for freedom by Kashmiris, from a tyrannical central government. On that night the paramilitary came down heavily to crush the freedom movement and the infamous Gawkadal Bridge massacre was to follow just a day later.
The Author further narrates in the book that Yusuf who was his childhood associate was gunned down. It is certainly thought-provoking and sad to find that the graves of those killed in the conflict were generally those of very young. It was not long before, Basharat went to study at the Aligarh Muslim University followed by enrolment at a university in Delhi. This leads him to a job as a reporter and a relaxing phase in his personal development to discover various aspects. The book is an effort at contextualizing the conflict in Kashmir, which is frequently simply just collateral in the larger political discourse that takes place. The local becomes a statistic for mainland newspapers and TV news networks. One of the great achievements of Curfewed Night is its unified blending of memoir and reporting.
The book contains Basharat’s Peer experiences of returning to Kashmir and looking for the stories of others affected by the conflict. The chapter “Papa-2” discusses the infamous torture center of that name which was ultimately shut down and turned into the residence of a high-ranking government official. Peer also mentions an event to describe his helplessness to visit Kunan Poshpura, the village where Indian soldiers gang-raped 20 women in 1990. He sits at a bus-stop waiting for the bus to take him to Kunan Poshpura, but when it arrives, he just goes on sitting, listening to the sound of the revving engine, and watching the bus drive away. At the end of Curfewed Night Peer crosses the “line of control” and writes: “The line of control did not run through 576 kilometers of militarized mountains. It ran through everything a Kashmiri, an Indian and a Pakistani said, wrote, and did. It ran through the reels of Bollywood coming to life in dark theatres, it ran through conversations in coffee shops and on television screens showing cricket matches, it ran through families and dinner talk, it ran through whispers of lovers. And it ran through our grief, our anger, our tears, and our silence. In short, the writer finds a balance that permits him to cautiously transcribe a story both honestly and sensitively.