6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Dr. M. I. Vakil
- Published on Amazon.com
I lived in Kashmir during the 90's and while reading Curfewed night, I relived the terible events of those years. Basharat has done a great job of recording and compiling a sample of the immense suffering that Kashmiris endured during the 90s and continue to suffer the wider implications of the impasse. I bought 4 copies after reading it to distribute to my friends and family.
A must read for anyone interested in the Kashmir problem.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
The book is a beautifully written account of the conflict in Kashmir, in which over 80,000 people have died since 1989. It is written by someone who spent his formative years during the conflict. Like all great books, this one is about human suffering, and what war does to people, to communities, to dreams, and to children's games. While the narrative follows author's own life, I admired the way it was never disruptive -- or worse, indulgent: you rarely see the author describe his own emotions; he builds a novelistic experience for the reader. This is true especially when narrating people's stories: he's virtually transparent. (I know at such moments, rather than being honest witnesses to people's stories, most writers would succumb to the temptation of describing their own feelings.)
Each story in this book is a story of loss: how young men and teenagers lost their youth and teens to conflict -- some with their bodies, others with their souls, many with both and more --, how bunkers and checkpoints cropped among fields of flowers and gardens of fruits, and how schools and temples were turned into military compounds, and how, even in war, people fighting on opposite sides can turn out to be the unlikeliest of acquaintances. In one story, a mother witnessed her son being handed an explosive mine and forced to go into a building where militants were hiding. All she could do was to fight the soldiers and save her other son from a similar fate.
Reading this book, I kept thinking of the Robert Hass's poem, "Winged and Acid Dark":
Basho' told Rensetsu to avoid sensational materials.
If the horror of the world were the truth of the world,
he said, there would be no one to say it
and no one to say it to.
At the end of it, this book affirms not what the ideological lot would have you believe (that it is about Pakistan or India, War on Terror, Indian democracy, conspiracy theories, etc.), but what Bash'o told Rensetsu: it is speaking to someone who cares.
Please read this book. You would know know things that make us human.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Loves the View
- Published on Amazon.com
Having been struck by the beauty of this area through the The Vale of Kashmir, I sought a general work on it. This is the only non-academic/non-technical work I found. The author describes the people and their lives first through some background on himself then through stories of people friends, relatives, colleagues and acquaintances.
In school, he and his young friends admire the insurgents for their shoes, their hair style and their guns. Some join the insurgency for these very reasons and pay with their lives. The author, protected from bad decisions by a wise family, goes to India to be educated. Later, as a journalist he interviews survivors and families of the dead, missing and tortured. He speaks with colleagues, Indians, Kashmir ex-pats and refugees and through their stories a portrait of Kashmir is drawn.
This gorgeous land of natural beauty is a a man made battle zone, complete with rubble, barbed wire, constant identity checks. People can be disappeared. Soldiers enter homes and take what is there. A curfew has lasted over 20 years.
Peer describes the multi-ethnic peace before these battles. He shows how Kashmir Muslims, many who have integrated Hindu customs, are comparatively resistant to fundamentalist and political Islam. Women in Kashmir seem to have educational opportunities. Peer interviews a number of women, too often ignored in books by males on Muslim countries, (Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey; The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran; Come Back to Afghanistan: A California Teenager's Story to name a few, otherwise, good books).
The book ends with a slight note of hope.
This is a good starting point for understanding the situation. It is light on the politics, focusing instead on the human tragedy this power struggle has created. For those more versed in what is happening, it provides a good background on the human cost of this war.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
No other "patriotism" in the world has such a legion of aggressive online champions as the Indian version: make some innocuous and mildly critical comment about the "rising superpower" on the most obscure of internet forums, and chances are a proud Indian nationalist - as likely as not to be a resident of somewhere other than India - will come blazing out of the ether to tell you just how wrong you are.
Inevitably then, there are a good few one-star reviews of Basharat Peer's Curfewed Night out there on booksellers' sites, accusing the author of being, amongst other things, a brainwashed terrorist sympathiser, and - best of all - "biased".
These people do not appear to have read the book, for while they dish out the standard lines used by strident pro-Indian voices to attack any critique of the Kashmir situation - that the author "has failed to mention the fate of the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits", and has "demonised the Indian soldiers" - Peer has done nothing of the sort.
The fate of the Pandits is a thread running through much of the book, not just in the chapter (The Missing Shiva) dedicated to the topic, and Peer openly wonders what the Indian soldiers are like as human beings, and finally gets to find out, with a sympathetic portrait of an officer who comes to a friend's office in Srinagar. When, on the other hand, it comes to the militants - both Pakistani and local - though he skirts around the issue and makes multiple abortive attempts, he never really manages to have a proper conversation with one on the subject of their experiences and motivations. And he certainly does nothing to absolve the militants of anything - they tried to blow up his parents, after all.
So not the howling anti-Indian dirge some would have you believe then.
But Curfewed Night is not the "definitive work on Kashmir" either, and not quite a "masterpiece".
It is, however, very well written. Peer wears his literary influences very much on his sleeve. He name-checks Hemingway early on, and is very obviously going for a sparse, restrained Hemingwayesque style (a refreshing change from the wild baroque we seem usually to expect of South Asian writers - and which they seem to expect of themselves). Of course, there is hardly a would-be writer on the planet who hasn't at some point in his youth wanted to emulate Hemingway - and their attempts to do so are usually an unmitigated disaster: not even Hemingway could emulate Hemingway on his off-days. However, Peer manages to avoid any silly stylistic affectations, and his Hemingway-ism goes no further than generic restraint. It works - as it worked for Hemingway - when writing about terrible things.
So the style works, and the approach is remarkably even handed. The problem with the book, however, is the tension within it between "memoir" and "reportage": Peer is an excellent memoirist, but a fairly useless journalist, and this becomes increasingly apparent as the book advances.
The first section - an account of his own childhood in Kashmir, and his own first-hand view of the start of the conflict - is excellent, evocative and powerful, and if he had carried on in the same fashion then the book may well have been a "masterpiece".
But Peer left Kashmir to study in his teens, and though his family connections remained, his direct experience of the conflict dwindled, and then became clouded by the fact that when he returned he was a working journalist - an observer, not a participant.
Both Hemingway and Peer's other much-flagged influence, George Orwell - though both fine journalists in their time - had their writing about conflict initially forged in first-hand, participant experience of war.
Because of this deficit, when it comes to the second part of the book Peer struggles. He has returned to Kashmir write about the conflict, but having not been a militant or a soldier himself, having never been tortured, never been blown up (or done any blowing up), his options are limited if he continues with a straight memoir, and he surely realises that for a middle-class returnee who spent the worst years elsewhere to dwell indulgently on his own experiences would be an insult to those whore were stuck in Kashmir through all those bitter years. So instead he attempts to take the role of reporter, interviewing those who have had those experiences.
The problem, however, is that Peer lacks real journalistic courage. Again and again he openly describes his own reluctance to ask the right questions, to set up the right meetings, to go to the right places, and by the final pages of the book - with his abject failure even to try to meet a Pakistani militant - this has become almost absurd. A book that started as an excellent memoir ends up a somewhat formless jumble.
Though certainly equipped with the necessary skill as a writer, Peer had neither the extensive personal experiences for a full memoir, nor the bravery and drive for a full piece of reportage. This is the failure of Curfewed Night.
There are a few other little glitches. As with so many other books about the Kashmir issue, there is a distinct lack of contextualising: the "historical background" could have been gleaned from a tourist brochure. Peer even manages to misidentify the second Maharaja of Kashmir as Pratap Singh (the second Maharaja was Ranbir Singh; there were only ever four Maharajas; their names and regnal order are not things anyone with even a casual interest in Kashmir should need to go to Wikipedia to check).
And of course, like <em>every</em> other book on the subject, the REAL untold part of the Kashmir story remains untold: the disparate histories and the buried aspirations of the people of the parts of the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir NOT inhabited by Kashmiris - the people of Ladakh, Jammu, Baltistan and the area around Gilgit. The wide gamut of <em>their</em> aspirations and experiences is an inconvenient truth in the "Kashmir issue" ignored by everyone.
But for all this, Curfewed Night is still a very fine book. And despite its rather shapeless second half, and its failure as reportage, Peer does manage very successfully to convey the heartbroken atmosphere of numbness and emotional exhaustion, which will be instantly recognisable to anyone who has firsthand experience of Kashmir as a non-partisan. The descriptive writing is beautiful, and the look and feel of the Valley is admirably portrayed.
There is plenty of promise here, and if in future works Peer relies on his writer's skills and draws purely from personal experience (and perhaps imagination), or alternatively "mans up" and confronts his journalistic duty, then he actually might come out with a masterpiece. Don't expect the saffron internet warriors not still to give it one-star reviews, though...
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
If you are interested in reading my full review, it may be found on the SAJA forum, part of the Indian-run South Asian Journalists Association website at sajaforum-dot-org.
When Curfewed Night was published in India in 2008, it received widespread praise and admiration from Indian readers, became a bestseller in India and Pakistan, garnered a bagful of glowing reviews, and even went on to win India's prestigious Vodafone Crossword Award for English Nonfiction. It sold well on the subcontinent, went into multiple printings and struck a chord through a seemingly divergent group of general readers and critics, fellow journalists and writers, and from both Muslims and Hindus.
However, there exists within India another segment of Hindus. One that has criticized the Indian government for failing to take a harsher stance on Jammu and Kashmir as a protection of Hindu interests. One that does not want to accept the truth of what has happened in Kashmir, and certainly does not want these stories given voice to a wider Western audience. So it comes as no surprise that this narrow-minded faction would be inclined to misread, malign and dismiss any book written by a Kashmiri Muslim. After all, in their "truly secular democratic nation" they can justify occupying villages and residential areas in Muslim Kashmir in the name of internal security, with a paramilitary force protected by full immunity. And they can just as easily rationalize the shooting of Muslim school boys in Srinagar in the name of "safeguarding humanity". Fortunately, they only represent a minority in India that fears the truth, refuses to negotiate, and seeks no solutions.
Within this dangerous segment of ultra right-wing nationalists exists yet another group: these are the so-called "Hindus" and patriots sitting in America. This group may be the worst because they have been marginalized from any true participation in Indian politics and defining Hindu identity; they comment while firmly ensconced in their armchairs - benefitting tremendously from the American secular democratic model - while bored, impotent and tangential to or even excluded from the substantiative debates in their homeland. They have been reduced to trolling the internet, manufacturing dissent, and "reviewing" books they haven't even bothered to read. Sometimes in their insular laziness they even sink to reviewing radio interviews. My suggestion to them: open your minds and read the book.
Now, for those truly interested in the story of modern Kashmir, with the human dimension secondary to the political perspective, I would recommend:
For an understanding of Pakistani military and ISI involvement in Kashmir, by Arif Jamal:
Shadow War: The Untold Story of Jihad in Kashmir
For an understanding of American involvement in Kashmir, by Howard B. Schaffer:The Limits of Influence: America's Role in Kashmir (Adst-Dacor Diplomats and Diplomacy)
For an even-handed treatment to both Indian and Pakistani perspectives from someone who has spent much of his long and distinguished career in the Indian Administrative Service working in Kashmir, by Wajahat Habibullah:My Kashmir: Conflict and the Prospects for Enduring Peace
But for an autobiographical portrait of growing up in modern Kashmir, of families unwillingly caught between paranoid imperialism and an often brutal militancy, you can do no better than to read Curfewed Night.