Saturday, March 5, 2011

One More Book

   I just love books... I don't know why, but it has always been so. There are people who brand me as a bookworm and hate me for it but that's just the way I'm.. I can't help it. I love the smell of books, their covers, their titles (not all), sometimes the style of writing, sometimes the story or the suspense, sometimes a particular character or a couple, and yet other times, the place where the story is set. I love authors.. I admire them for the work they have published; even those that are not that good (I believe people should admire them even more because they had the guts to publish whatever rubbish they have written!!).
   So, there is this dilemma: which is my favourite book? Normally, I name a few books I have read and add that I like many others too. But if God gave me the chance to read one more book, just one more, then which book will I read? Of course, being a devout Muslim, the last book that I would ever like to read is The Holy Qur'an. But if the choice is one more book before The Qur'an, then I will have a hard time deciding which book to read.
  I'm crazy about harry Potter series ( I love J.K.Rowling's way of writing, how she includes humour even in the most serious situations) but then I've read them so often that I almost now them by heart. So there's no point reading them one last time. Then there is Letter from Peking by Pearl.S.Buck. But that too is almost as familiar to me as Harry Potter. I like most of the books by Orhan Pamuk, Erich Segal and John Grisham, but as my very last book? The answer is no. Curfewed Night is a book I like very much, but then, it is not fiction- I would be too sad knowing that as I read, people elsewhere are suffering those atrocities. And if I were to choose Khaled Hosseini's book, that would be a dilemma in itself- I still can't make up my mind whether I like The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns the most. And there's the fact that there are a lot of books that I haven't read yet (The Good Earth, The Collaborator,etc), and lots yet to be published or released, and still others not yet written.
   So, what can I do? The truth is that I will not be able to decide which book I like so much so that I would choose it to be the last book I would ever read, even if I was given another lifetime!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

'Curfewed Night'- a review

     Kashmir. The bluest of skies cradling a glacier of clouds over the peaks of the Himalayas. A wide valley spreading out in the gentle, soothing green of paddy fields. Metalled roads falling like black ribbons toward the valley; tall, elegant poplars by the roadside and shorter, greener willows along the wedge of paddies. Snow-covered buildings and mountain peaks, and the frozen Jhelum river, and so on. This beautiful valley, considered to be the "Paradise on Earth" is well-known. But the cruelty inflicted upon the people there has always been suppressed. While Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine received international attention, issues of Kashmir have been limited to small articles in the newspapers of India and Pakistan. It is to change this pathetic situation and bring out the truth about Kashmir that young Kashmir journalist Basharat Peer has written the moving memoir Curfewed Night.It is the first book written by a Kashmiri Muslim about the tumultuous history of Kashmir, and has bagged the Vodafone Crossword Non Fiction Award. It is, in the words of Khushwant Singh, 'beautifully written, brutally honest and deeply hurtful' . 
     Basharat peer was born in a village in the Anantnag district of Kashmir, as the son a Kashmiri bureaucrat and a village school teacher.He studied political science at Aligarh Muslim University and journalism at Columbia University. He has worked as a reporter at Rediff and Tehelka, and has written various articles for The Guardian and other reputed dailies. Basharat Peer was a teenager when the separatist movement broke out in Kashmir. The massacre of innocent Kashmiri people at the hands of the Indian army prompted countless young men, whose resentment against Indian rule was till then expressed only during cricket matches, to cross over the Line of Control to train in Pakistani army camps. It was around that time that identity cards, 'crackdowns' and security checks became a part of Kashmiri life. Travelling became dangerous; no one could be sure of reaching back home from school or workplace. Empty chairs filled classrooms as many have left school, and some the valley itself, out of fear. Peer was sent off to school in Aligarh where he might be safe. He attended college and became a journalist in Delhi but Kashmir- angrier, more violent, more helpless- was never far away. Drawn back to his homeland to search out the stories that have always haunted him, he resigned from his job and began writing about the valley- he paints a harrowing and intensely moving picture of Kashmir and its people in Curfewed Night.
     His pain is evident when he describes how the monuments and shrines of Kashmir were either destroyed or taken over by the army- 'Pari Mahal', or the Palace of the Fairies, had become the world's most paramilitary camp; the library of Islamiya College, the oldest college in Srinagar and the 600 year old shrine of Nuruddin Rishi were burnt down in gun battles; Hindu temples and Buddhist stupas were dying from neglect and misuse. Streets which have earlier smelled of cardamom and cinnamon now stinks of burning tyres and tear gas. The cities of Kashmir have lost their nights to curfews. Mothers and 'half-widows' of 'disappeared persons' fight for justice in city squares and parks. They keep hoping till they see the dead body or the grave.
     'Curfewed Night' is the story of Kashmir. It is also the story of countless people who had to suffer the consequences of the battles between the army and the militants- Mubeena who was gang-raped by the Border Security Force on her wedding day, Shameema who fought with soldiers and saved one of her sons from being sent to a militants' house with a landmine (her elder son was killed in this way), Rashid Nazki the poet who was silent after losing half of his family in a grenade blast, Kashmiri Pandits who had migrated forced to live in one room brick huts, and a number of other innocent people buried in named and nameless graves. Basharat Peer hopes that one day the war being fought in Kashmir and the reasons for its existence would disappear like footsteps on winter snow in his childhood.The book ends in a note of optimism as a bus service has been started between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad. As the CNN review rightly says, Curfewed Night is a book that will stay with you long after you flip its last page.