Basharat Peer was a student at Delhi University when he found himself walking into a bookstore in Delhi looking for literature on Kashmir. He wanted stories of his hometown that would explain the carnage that history had left behind.
However, in that pivotal moment, he felt the acute absence of Kashmir in the stories that were being told about it. It was then that he decided to write a story about Kashmir – the home he had had to flee. The home that had almost killed his father in an explosion. The home where he had experienced extreme surveillance – but a place which was home nevertheless.
Curfewed Night was published in 2008, and is a book that I find myself revisiting often simply because of its unabashed honesty. It is not just a memoir that catalogues the life of well-known journalist Basharat Peer, it is also in some sense a story of the conflict itself.
Peer wrote the book because he grew up right in the midst of the conflict that plagues Kashmir today. He saw his friends turn to militancy in a hope of a better and more free future. He made his living in cities which refused to accept his identity but would readily accept ownership over his home. In this context, this book becomes an important political tool as well.
The book is an attempt at contextualising the conflict in Kashmir, which is often simply just collateral in the larger political discourse that takes place. The local becomes a statistic for mainland newspapers and TV news networks. However, this memoir not only attempts to narrow the scope of the conflict down, it also makes the conflict accessible. Peer is serious when he wants to tell the story of Kashmir. He approaches it with a careful hand, peppering it lightly with his own lived experiences.
I think as far as memoirs go, this one is rather unique. A talented writer, Peer also co-wrote the script of the critically acclaimed Vishal Bhardwaj film Haider. The book begins with a story of his childhood in a seemingly idyllic Anantnag, where Peer was born and raised. His father was a Kashmiri civil servant and his grandfather was the headmaster at the school where he studied. He grew up in an environment that was stable – as stable as one can be in an ongoing dispute. What follows is an interesting take on the conflict, to say the least.
Peer has managed to effectively give us an account that meshes both the personal and the political. His memoir is not his memoir anymore – it is owned by everyone he is writing about, and writing for. The book is not only an attempt at cataloguing untold stories, it is also an attempt for him to personally understand it better. As a journalist, Peer reports on conflict. His main reason for going back and writing about Kashmir was because he had run away from that conflict enough.
Also read: Agony Inside: A Story From Kashmir
There is definitely a sense of where he stands with respect to the larger political conflict at least. You can read his pain and suffering and the reader also has the opportunity to understand a far more nuanced take on the prolonged war. Kashmir has been a bone of contention for decades when it comes to the already tense relationship between India and Pakistan.
As the Centre scrapped Article 370 last year, this book becomes a pertinent read. The situation worsens with every passing year, and none of the two states embroiled in the war are helping ease it. In this case, stories like these become important. Stories that exist for the sake of telling a story and not for the sake of pushing one story or narrative.
Curfewed Night is a tool, one that is equipped with stories that haven’t been told. Stories that simply ceased to exist as the overarching conversations take their place. Peer’s attempt to fill this void seems successful – a project to write untold stories can often go awry when the storyteller assumes control of the narrative.
However, Peer’s memoir is character driven. It is written not with an intent of simply doing another ethnographic study on Kashmir, but to move it away from the usual geopolitical arguments that the state is subjected to. It is simply more than reportage and less than a memoir. Somewhere in between, he found a balance that allowed him to carefully write a story both truthfully and tactfully.
Prerna Vij is a third-year undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Political Science and Literature from Ashoka University.
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