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The struggle for paradise

If you have ever visited Kashmir, then you’ve probably marvelled at the Shalimar Gardens, cruised on the Dal Lake in a Shikara and you might have even written an essay or two about how you’ve just witnessed ‘heaven on earth.’

books Updated: Jul 10, 2010 00:48 IST
Afsha Khan

If you have ever visited Kashmir, then you’ve probably marvelled at the Shalimar Gardens, cruised on the Dal Lake in a Shikara and you might have even written an essay or two about how you’ve just witnessed ‘heaven on earth.’ If you want to continue this delusion, don’t read Kashmir-born writer and journalist Basharat Peer’s memoirs — Curfewed Night. Here, you’ll find a completely different point of view, one that might contradict everything you have believed of the Valley. You’ll meet the author at different stages of his life. First, as a young boy, itching to participate in Kashmir’s “fight for freedom”, approaching militants with his friends and marvelling at their “Kalashnikovs” (AK-47s) and then as an adult, shuttling between Delhi and Srinagar as a journalist dreaming of being his war-torn homeland’s voice to the world.

“Children born just before or after the armed rebellion had become far too intimate with war and fear,” Peer observes in the book. “My cousin, who was born in the early nineties on a day a gun battle was raging outside the hospital played a game called ‘army-militant’.”

The author’s casual way of putting certain things shows what it has been like for young Kashmiris growing up in the midst of a war, inventing games around insurgency and learning to distinguish between various makes of guns by listening to the sounds of distant gunfire.

What really endears this book to you is Peer’s journalistic tact of writing without prejudice or giving philosophical speeches. He tells his own story, intertwined with that of Kashmir without pausing to justify why many of the state’s youth have taken up arms as militants. But something that comes through Peer’s writing anyway is the objective of the book, which does not question whether Kashmir still belongs to India, but whether India belongs to Kashmir.