Curfewed Night: One Kashmiri Journalist's Frontline Account of Life, Love, and War in His Homeland by Read online, or download in secure EPUB format. Later that night I lay in my bed imagining the massacre in Srinagar. Kashmiri Outside, the curfewed night lay in its silence like a man waiting in ambush. Curfewed Night is a brave and unforgettable piece of literary reporting that reveals the Curfewed Night ePub (Adobe DRM) can be read on any device that can open Running Man: A Memoir ePub (Adobe DRM) download by Charlie Engle.
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Search this site. Free book Curfewed Night: Curfewed Night: Since , when the separatist movement exploded in Kashmir, more than 70, people have been killed in the battle between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. Born and raised in the war-torn region, Basharat Peer brings this little-known part of the world to life in haunting, vivid detail.. Peer reveals stories from his youth as well as gut-wrenching accounts of the many Kashmiris he met years later, as a reporter. He writes about politicians living in refurbished torture chambers, idyllic villages rigged with landmines, and ancient Sufi shrines decimated in bomb blasts..
Our maths teacher walked in and a half-empty class started. Slowly, we grew used to the empty chairs and the talk was of the war outside. In the lunch break between maths and English class, my friends and I shared stories of militancy.
Someone would have seen a militant and he would tell us how the miLitant styled his hair, what clothes and shoes he wore, and how many days he said it would take for freedom. The best story was about the magical Kalashnikov. Tt is as small as a hand and shoots two hundred bullets. It is as long as a cricket bat and fires fifty bullets in a minute. He told mother that he wanted to become a militant. She cried, and father slapped him. One afternoon, we were on the football field when a militant passed by.
Even our snooty games teacher went up to him, smiled, and shook hands. Encouraged, we gathered around. He was the centre forward, beaming in his blue tracksuit, and he could not resist asking. The militant took off his loose pheran and showed us his gun. We were enraptured and clapped in delight. From then on we all carried our cricket bats inside our pherans, in imitation and preparation. The next morning before the school assembly, the seniors told us not to chant the Indian national anthem.
We are Kashmiris and now we are fighting for independence. We cannot go on chanting the Indian songs, even if the principal might like us to. Our teachers, who would routinely answer disobedience with corporal punishment, remained silent.
Nobody threatened to dismiss us from the school; they knew our world had changed and so had the rules governing it. The school principal, a short, bald man from Rajasthan, who promoted laughter therapy, was not laughing. Then he talked about the Indian freedom struggle against the British and how the students who had joined it had paid the highest price. By the summer of , thousands of young Kashmiri men crossed the Line of Control, for arms training in the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir.
When they returned as militants, they were heroes — people wanted to talk to them, touch them, hear their stories, and invite them for a feast. Many more were trained locally, in apple orchards and meadows — earning them the nickname dragud, or meadow.
Like almost every teenager, I wanted to join them. Fighting and dying for freedom was much desired, like the first kiss on adolescent lips. A year later, in the autumn of , when I was fourteen, I walked with four boys from my dorm to a nearby village looking for guerrillas. We saw a group of young men dressed in fatigues, assault rifles slung on their shoulders coming from the other side of the road.
They were tall, and seemed the most glamorous of men; we were awestruck. The white badges on their green military uniforms read: Standing there in our white and grey school uniforms, I blurted out, "We want to join you.
I was furious and pressed our point. The guerrillas burst into laughter. We continued our meek protests as they left. We returned to our dorm sulking, talking about a better way to join. They would join us 24 for a game of volleyball, their guns lying casually on the grass by the volleyball court. Or they would be sitting on the dorm verandah cleaning Kalashnikovs as I left for classes.
A small, curious crowd would grow around them. One of them, who was barely eighteen, let me hold a Kalashnikov. I felt its cold, steel barrel, ran my fingers on its banana-shaped magazine of bullets, posed with its aluminium butt pressed against my right shoulder.
It felt fascinadng! But then he took it back the next minute and asked me to move on. Though hardly in their early twenties and only some six or seven years older than us, they treated us like small children.
To make things worse, one of the commanders was from my village. He was about six feet tall, had a broad forehead and curly hair. A jovial man, he had three daughters, and used to work as a plumber in the hotels at nearby tourist resort, Pahalgam. The villagers called him Tonga because he seemed as tall as a horse carriage. He was a lovable rogue and the stories of his adventures were often told on the village shopfronts.
During the tourist season in Pahalgam he was in great demand. He would fiddle with the water supply pipes and insert blockages that stopped the water supply to hotel rooms. The desperate hoteliers would then pay him the desired price for fixing things. Now, some village boys called him Rambo. Every time I would see Tonga he would ask about my family and tell me to study harder.
Groups of boys left for arms training every other day. Father had bought me a pair; they had a fur lining and a thick rubber outer and sole.
We planned to try our luck again. A few days later, we were interrupted in class by a knock on the door. The teacher went out and returned to tell me my uncle was here, and that I should leave the class to meet him. A bank manager, in his early thirties, my uncle was the fashion icon for most children in my family.
I admired his baggy jeans and checked shirts, and his hairstyle, somewhat like John Travolta in Grease , and the indescribable accent of his English, which he had picked up during his friendship with some German tourists. I shouted a loud greeting and we hugged. He was carrying a bag and I promptly volunteered to carry it.
You mother made chicken for us. My room was small, bare except for two beds, two small bookracks, and two cupboards for clothes. I spread a cotton sheet on my bed and we began to eat. Uncle seemed to stop between morsels to watch me devour the pieces of chicken.
He laughed but something seemed wrong. All well.
I was talking to your father last night and then thought I should come and save you from the lentils. We finished eating and sat near a rose bed in the lawn. We talked about my studies. He said my father dreamt of seeing me in the civil service.
Your father struggled very hard to get where he has reached. But I know you will do us proud, 5 he said. Uncle stared at the school buildings for a long time. Your father and I were talking about it last night. And he misses you a lot. He will be happy. But you will have to talk to my teachers. Unsuspecting, I quickly packed my bags and a few minutes later, we were walking to the nearest bus stand.
A scrawl of graffiti on the wall of a house nearby read: I was startled. He shook his head slowly. The bus passed conical haystacks standing in empty paddies, almost golden in the autumn sun. It crossed a small bridge and entered my village, which seemed pretty much the same. The bus stopped near the neighbourhood pharmacy and I grew a bit stiff, dreading the encounter at home.
Standing by the white and green milestone at the bus stop, I took in my house — the house with the green windows stacked with five others in a row on the right side of the road. The shopkeepers and the hangers-on were at their usual places. It felt like standing on a familiar stage, facing a 27 familiar audience.
I shouted greetings at people on the left side of the road and shook hands along the storefronts on our side. Anxious about what awaited me at home, I turned my greetings a little more elaborate at every stop: When I finally arrived at home, grandfather made me sit next to him. Uncle, grandmother, and mother formed a semicircle around him. I was silent, unsure what to say and asked for tea.
Mother had already poured me a cup from the samovar. I circled the pinkish flowers embossed on the white porcelain cup in between sips to avoid the awkwardness and the question-filled air. She looked up with a forced smile. I had dressed him in a white shirt and grey shorts and his red necktie.
You had cried and shouted so much that an hour later, your teacher brought you to my office. The joke was on me. And he repeated the stale story of how, inspired by my Superman comics, I once jumped from the first floor window. My younger brother had helped me tie my pheran like a cape. I broke my right arm. This roundabout build-up to the real question irritated me. I was getting angry and thinking of walking out. They could see it. Mother looked at me for a long time and said nothing.
And then, grandfather fixed his watery green eyes on me. His words hit me like the burst of a water cannon. Suddenly, I had this image of myself lying dead on a wooden board on our lawn, surrounded by our neighbours and relatives. The dreaded headmaster — who prided himself on the fact that nobody dared light a cigarette or raise his voice in his presence — had tears in his eyes. Mother adjusted her casually worn headscarf and grandfather rose to leave for the prayers.
Grandfather left. The tension eased somewhat. And then mother took over. He is coming all the way from Srinagar, only because he is worried about you. God knows what could happen on the way. I had been talking to a few neighbourhood men for an hour when father got off a bus, wearing one of his blue suits and carrying a bundle of books. We all stood up; I reflexively rushed to get his books and files. A chorus of greetings followed.
The highway has become very dangerous. Yes, too many checkposts. Father sorted his books and picked up a commentary on the Quran in English. You will understand religion and improve your English. You must also read the Bible, which is a very good way to improve your language skills. He made it easy, somehow. At that point I will not say that you should or should not join any group.
I found myself nodding in agreement. He continued. It took India many decades to get freedom from the British. The Tibetans have been asking for independence from China for more than thirty years now. Czechoslovakia has its freedom now, but it was already a country. And even that took a long time.
You have seen their books in our library. Vaclav Havel is a very big writer. The Dalai Lama has read a lot and can teach so many things to people. None of them used guns but they changed history.
If you want to do something for Kashmir, I would say you should read. I stayed in the classroom. But the conflict had intensified. Fear and chaos ruled Kashmir.
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Almost every person knew someone who had joined the militants or had been arrested, tortured or beaten by the troops. Fathers wished they had daughters instead of sons. Sons were killed every day. Mothers prayed for the safety of their daughters.
People dreaded knocks on their doors at night. Graveyards began to spring up everywhere and marketplaces were scarred with charred buildings. And people seemed always talked about the border and crossing the border; it had become an obsession, an invisible presence.
Line of Control! This always reminded me of Zainab, an old woman in our village. Father had told me she was very beautiful when she was young and sang and danced at all weddings. Then her husband crossed the border, went to Pakistan, and never returned.
She stopped dancing. She lived to raise her daughter, whom she had named Gul. Zainab was aggressive, forceful, a fighter. Her daughter was a student at the high school where my mother taught. School was quiet, mundane. The guerrillas would still visit and stay at our dorm, and occasionally join us for a game of football.
Familiarity had somewhat shorn them of their glamour. Shabnam, a second cousin of mine, a year senior to me at school, was one of the finest volleyball players in the school team. I began taking volleyball lessons from him and spent more time on the field trying to perfect a serve and a smash.
He had learnt his cricket and volleyball from his 31 older brother, Tariq, who had recendy finished college. Every time I visited them with my father, I would see Tariq playing cricket in the enormous cricket ground near their house, and Shabnam hanging out on the sidelines. My father was very attached to their father, Rahman, his oldest cousin, who had raised him after his parents died very young.
He ironed his uniform immaculately and polished his brown police boots till they shone. He had recently retired and in his civilian days dressed in a faint resemblance to the seventies double-breasted suits and Fez caps that Sheikh Abdullah wore. Tariq had graduated in mathematics and chemistry, but he was more of a sportsman. He saw me as a bookworm and entertained himself by asking me random questions: How many astronauts were on board Apollo 13?
What is an F? What is the symbol for sulphuric acid? But he could answer all the cricket questions: Who has made the largest number of runs in one-day cricket? Which is the largest cricket ground in the world? One day, just before a game, I saw him walking out of the dorm with his bags. Shabnam dropped his bag on the lawn; his face was pale. Shabnam went home. A few days later I went to visit him and his parents.
Tariq had left suddenly without telling anyone. Rahman Uncle sat, chain- smoking his hookah. He seemed to have aged in a few days. My son has crossed the border without even telling me. Back at school, when he returned, Shabnam talked a lot about Tariq, who had reached an arms training camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir.
Every evening the separatist radio ran a much-awaited show of songs interspersed with propaganda and messages from listeners. When a militant in training wanted to let his family know how he was, he requested a song, and a message was played along with it.
The messages were like this: His family and relatives heard the message and knew he was safe. Shabnam and I were sitting on a bench outside our dorm. He had brought out his black Philips radio and we listened to the songs and messages. One of the hosts, who called himself Malik, would prophesise about Kashmir getting independence in a week and how he would travel across the border from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir to Indian-ruled Kashmir and drink kahwa at Jehangir Hotel, a prominent hotel in Srinagar, the next Friday.
Listening to the programme was full of tense moments; we heard familiar names. But there was no message from Tariq. Every day Shabnam listened for a message from his older brother; every day he hoped for news and fended off rumours: One day after dinner, Shabnam was lying on his bed, holding the radio like a pillow and listening to the show.
I was talking to his roommate. The usual songs and messages played: The Brave Daughters of Srinagar! A few minutes of messages and another song: Wake up! The morning is here! The flags of victory are flying! Basharat, he really is alive! Raise the volume! The moment had passed. Shabnam went home the next morning to give the news. They had been listening to the show too.
Around a year after he had crossed the border, Tariq returned home. The verandah and the corridor had turned into a multi-coloured jumble of sandals, loafers and sneakers.
I walked into the large, trapezium- shaped room, which was dark green and black and brown. A new floral rug had been laid out; men, women, and children sat against cushions along the walls.
Shabnam poured kahwa from a gleaming tin-plated copper samovar into the porcelain cups 34 placed in front of every guest; another boy carrying a wicker basket served chochevaer, a sort of mini poppy seed bagel, fresh from the local bakery.
A hundred eyes were focused on a single face: Tariq sitting on a velvet-covered cushion, the one used for Kashmiri grooms. Every new guest shouted from the gate.
Men shook his hand and hugged him. Women hugged him and smothered his forehead with kisses. Rahman Uncle sat next to his son in silent resignation. I walked up to Tariq and hugged him. I smiled. His round face seemed sunken; he had cut his long, curly hair short, like a soldier, but his big, black eyes retained their familiar spark. He looked neat in a white kurta pajama, almost like a groom. My eyes wandered to his fatal bride, the Kalashnikov, hidden under a thick green sports jacket by his side.
Outside, for around a mile, various neighbourhood boys strained their eyes and ears for unwanted signs of military vehicles. The militant son talked; the retired police officer father listened. So did the room full of people, as if Tariq was Marco Polo bringing tidings of a new world.
He told us about his journey to Pakistan and back. He and his friends had taken a bus for Srinagar. A point man from the militant group they were joining waited for them at the crowded Batamaloo bus station in southern Srinagar. There they boarded a bus for the north Kashmir town of Baramulla. The bus was full of employees returning home after work. The driver played Bollywood songs and the passengers talked about the militant movement.
Some passengers seemed to recognise Tariq and his friends as boys out to cross the border and smiled at them. On the road from Srinagar to Baramulla, there were 35 neither checkpoints nor military and patrols. Indian military presence in Kashmir was just about to increase exponentially. Next morning the three groups boarded a bus to Kupwara, the town closest to the LoC.
The ticket collector refused to accept the fare from them. Kupwara teemed with young men and boys from every part of Kashmir waiting to cross the border. Tariq and his friends were introduced to a man who was to take them across the mountains. Wearing Duck Back rubber shoes, carrying rucksacks full of clothes and food, the boys left Kupwara in a truck. By evening, they reached the village of Trehgam, a few miles from the LoC.
They waited at a hideout till night fell. In the darkness they followed their guide. They climbed ridges, crawled past bunkers of the Indian troops, climbed again throughout the night.
The guide had instructed them not to light a cigarette or litter the wrappers of the biscuits they carried. They held hands and walked in silence.
Dawn came and they hid in the bush, behind the fir and pine trees growing on the mountains forming the border. They passed the day, apprehensive of being spotted by Indian troops. Night fell. They trekked again till the last Indian checkpost. It was still dark when they crawled beneath the Indian post overlooking them and reached the Pakistani post on the other side.
The next day Tariq was in the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, Muzaffarabad. He was taken to an arms training camp run by Pakistani military. For six months he trained in using small arms, landmines, rockets, and propelled grenades.
And you can buy the cassettes for all new songs. Shabnam and I looked at each other and smiled.
A few minutes later, someone asked about the journey back across the mountainous border. The trek back was three days long.
The ammunition bags were heavy. We buried food packages and some bullet magazines in the snow , 5 Tariq said. Thousands had passed the snows since his journey to Pakistan a year ago.
He saw the evidence of their encounters with the Indian troops on the way: They almost got killed when they came face to face with a group of boys crossing over from Srinagar. They were dressed in military fatigues, as was the fashion amongst the militants.
Tariq and his group thought they were Indian soldiers. Their guides whistled — a code signalling the other they were on the same side. The Srinagar group guide responded; the boys shook hands and moved on. Tariq and his friends had also had an encounter with real Indian paramilitaries near the border town of Kupwara. He would have been home in half an hour. You got home safe. She stood a few feet from Tariq, staring at his face for a long time. He rose from his seat and hugged her.
Someone introduced her as hailing from a neighbouring village. Her son had crossed the border for arms training. She had been told he was killed while crossing back. Families whose sons died while crossing the LoC, from where bodies cannot be recovered, held funerals in absentia. People offered funeral prayers with an empty coffin or without a coffin. Her family had had such a funeral for her son; but she had not reconciled herself to the news of his death.
She sat in front of Tariq and held his hands. Tariq, my dear, my son, they told me he was martyred on the border! Tariq, my dear, tell me they are lying. Tell me you saw my rose! You were there too. You must have seen my rose! He is waiting to cross back. He is waiting for his turn.
She kissed his forehead again and again, and broke down. Homecomings for militants were shordived. Tariq visited home, hurriedly, and stealthily. Soldiers often knocked at their door, looking for him, beadng his father, his brothers, seeking information about him, telling them to ask him to surrender.
His younger brother, Shabnam and I were there together. August 14 and August 15 are the Pakistani and Indian independence days. In the capital, Srinagar, however, pro-India politicians who form the local state government herd groups of their supporters and force government schools to gather contingents of schoolchildren in a cricket ground guarded by hundreds of Indian paramilitaries. Then the politicians hoist the Indian flag. Outside the stadium, the streets remain empty.
Thousands had gathered in the ground for the spectacle.
We sneaked through the crowd to the front row for a better view. Militant leaders made fiery speeches in favour of Pakistan and raised separatist slogans. We stared at the militants in their green uniforms holding their rifles. They performed military stunts and sang battle songs to a clapping audience.
A militant leader raised the Pakistani flag after the songs. His men fired into the air with their Kalashnikovs. Then someone said the army was coming that way and the gathering vaporised. They had killed him in a raid on his hideout. Homecomings were fraught with danger.
The fighting had changed the meaning of distance. I went home almost every weekend from my school. The black sliver of the road made its way through a stoic expanse of rice and mustard fields, willow groves, grand Iranian maple or chinar trees, along a flamboyant stream, and the huddled houses of a few small villages. But the six mile ride in a local bus was dangerous. Military and paramilitary trucks drove on the same road throughout the day, carrying supplies between various camps or going on raids in the villages.
Guerrillas hiding in the 39 fields by the road would often fire at convoys or detonate landmines planted in the road. Soldiers would retaliate after such attacks, firing in all directions, and beating anyone they could lay their hands on. One weekend, on my way home, I was standing in the aisle near the driver as all seats had been occupied. Kashmiri buses are like noisy cafes; almost everyone knows everyone and voices of varying pitches fill the vehicle.
The driver played a Bollywood song, its melancholic lyrics floating over the din. A mile into the journey, a paramilitary convoy overtook our bus and hovered just ahead of us. Soldiers had realised that driving close to a civilian bus would keep guerrillas from attacking them. Suddenly the voices in the bus were lowered; the driver turned off the music.
Anxiety filled the bus. Our driver began praying feverishly. Please get us safely to our homes today. The minutes passed and the paramilitary convoy gathered speed. Our driver slowed down and the distance between us grew. We were in a village called Siligam, midway between my school and my house, when I heard a loud explosion. The driver slammed the brakes and in the distance we saw a paramilitary truck skid off the road and land in the fields. I was taking in the sight when I heard a barrage of bullets — the lighter sounds of Kalashnikovs; the heavier, retaliatory bursts of LMGs.
The driver swung the bus around and sped back as fast he could.
Everyone crouched under their seats. I sat on the floor of the bus, gripping a seat. The roar of the engine seemed to rise over the sound of bullets being fired. I buried my head in my knees and closed my eyes. Though we were driving away from the battle, I began listing the guns that could still hit us.
Columbia Global Reports, February List Price: Recently Viewed Products. Basharat Peer.
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