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Chapter I. Curfewed Night: Journey of the Self. Basharat Peer‟s Curfewed Night published in , is written in the backdrop of armed conflict in Kashmir which. Outside, the curfewed night lay in its silence like a man waiting in ambush. The Three Musketeers 'Is someone called Basharat Peer here? He is a ninth class . Find out more about Curfewed Night by Basharat Peer at Simon & Schuster. Read book reviews & excerpts, watch author videos & more.
Kalashnikovs used by the militants sounded different from the machine guns and other rifles used by the soldiers. Ali, its young protagonist, was both James Bond and Rambo. I had lowered the volume to a bare minimum, lit a night lamp, and closed the curtains to avoid attracting any attention. 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. I shook his hand. Some more people from our village were already there, sitting silendy along the wall, with their half empty cups of tea.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved The Guardian. Retrieved from " https: Hidden categories: Pages to import images to Wikidata. Namespaces Article Talk. India, Turkey, and the Return of Strongmen. My not-so-secret life as an adult dancer and how it impacts my life and business. Patricia Vaccarino. In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult.
Rebecca Stott. With linked Table of Contents. Henry David Thoreau. Breaking Rank: Norm Stamper. 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.
I feared that we might still be in the killing range of an LMG. A little while later, the driver stopped the bus. I raised my head and stood up in a quick, 40 involuntary motion. Two men hugged the driver. An old man broke down and began to cry.
A woman patted his back and consoled him. I smiled at everyone around me. We got off the bus and drank from a roadside stream. The driver and a few other men smoked cigarettes. We had begun the drive back to the bus yard in the village of Aishmuqam near my school, when we saw a speeding convoy of paramilitary trucks coming towards us.
The convoy stopped and so did we. Armed soldiers circled the bus and an angry paramilitary officer ordered us out. We stood in a queue on the road.
I was close to the door and was the first one to get down. I was in my school uniform and carried a school bag. The officer raised his gun like a baton.
I waited to be hit by the weapon but failed to remove my eyes from his. He lowered the gun and pushed me with his other hand. I knew he was going to shoot me. I see you pass by every day.
As we arrived at the bus yard a crowd gathered around the bus. Two hours later, another bus arrived and its driver told me, You were lucky that no soldier was killed by the landmine. I saw no soldiers, no military trucks. I saw the willow trees lining the road, the paddy fields, the tin roofs of a village beyond the fields, and a large crater on the right corner of the road carved out by the explosion.
We drove past a few villages where the shops had been closed and the streets were empty except for patrolling paramilitary soldiers. Fortunately they let our bus pass. A few weeks later, I was home again. That weekend we expected father to visit from his office in Srinagar. Srinagar 41 was wracked with violence and every day we heard reports of scores of deaths there on BBC World Service radio.
He almost lost his voice and went off the air. Father was supposed to come home in the evening, and late in the afternoon mother sent me to get lamb chops. Is Peer sahib coming home. He usually buys meat by this time on a Saturday. I was wondering if everything is fine. God knows, this is a dangerous time. They were already laughing.
The usual. Abu, the butcher, was looking our way, smiling. At least he asks 42 about everyone. Or the fields. Tonga, the tall JKLF man from our village, was with them. A small crowd of villagers had gathered around Tonga and they seemed to be arguing about something. Abu and I looked at each other. I rushed to find out.
Tonga and his cohorts were planning to attack a convoy of Indian troops supposed to pass by our village. The villagers were trying to persuade them against it. They were addressing Tonga by his real name. You have to stop this attack. Do you want your own village burnt? Do you want soldiers to barge into our homes? Have the fear of God, this is your own village! I know!
Every time my commanders plan an action here, I fight with them. My old mother lives here, my three daughters live here. Do something. You can save the village. Rahet, your mother, is like my sister. Remember that! And look at my white hair and white beard! Where will I run? Please, close the shops and leave! The shopkeepers pulled down their shutters; I ran home. We have to run. Mother folded the sleeves of her pheran and asked everyone to shut up. She was getting into schoolteacher mode and everyone listened to her.
We were ready to leave through the other door, facing the lawn and the vegetable garden. Then mother suddenly said, 'What about the books? I had spent long hours in his library. And there were histories, law books, commentaries on religion and politics in South Asia. His books were the books of a self-taught man, books that had shaped him, helped him build his life, that made him stand out when he talked about worlds and ideas that few men in our world could talk about.
Touching their spines, running my fingers along their fonts, feeling the smoothness of their paper, and being mesmerised by their stories, made me feel closer to father and share his connection to a magical world. And father was supposed to arrive home soon.
Grandmother kept looking towards the door facing the road. Father usually arrived before sunset as the government had imposed curfew after sunset and travelling at night could be fatal. There is nothing you can do by staring at the door, 5 mother shouted at her and locked the door.
Our neighbours were standing on their lawn with a few bags. Soon our walk turned into a run. I hoped that father would hear about the attack and stay away; I hoped that nobody killed in the attack and the soldiers would not set our house on fire.
Our village was emptying fast and almost everyone seemed to be running towards Numbul, the neighbouring village.
It lay across some paddy fields and Lidder, our local stream, a tributary of the river Jhelum. The blue-green waters of the Lidder rushing through the fields bubbled and frolicked over the pebbles and stones. The wild grass grew by the stream; the willows swayed; and the paddies were ripening. The stoic arches of the mountains watched us from a distance. In the open sky above us, crows and eagles wandered and whirled.
They continued with their own seasons, blind to ours. We were half a kilometre from the river when the first bullet was fired. Some tried running faster, others lay in the fields. Every few seconds, we heard the crackle of bullets. Kalashnikovs used by the militants sounded different from the machine guns and other rifles used by the soldiers.
Now the military is firing back. The militants seem to have stopped firing. The guns were still booming when we reached Numbul. Every door there was open to welcome us. I do not know whose house we rushed into. We were ushered into a room.
Some more people from our village were already there, sitting silendy along the wall, with their half empty cups of tea. As my entire family followed grandfather into the room, two young men stood up and offered him and grandmother their place; another took the cushion he was leaning against and placed it against the wall for grandfather. Tea followed.
The faint sound of gunfire still reached us. After a while, I saw grandfather and a few others step outside. I followed them. Nobody said so but we were searching the horizon for signs of flames and smoke. I saw nothing but a slowly darkening sky. And I imagined people stopping a local bus in a neighbouring village, telling the driver about the attack, and turning it back. I imagined father holding his newspapers and office files, getting off the bus, and staying with some acquaintance.
But I also failed to ignore thoughts like the bus going forward towards our village or getting caught in crossfire. I fully understood, for the first time, how he was making dangerous journeys week after week to see us.
Tears overwhelmed me. The guns fell silent sometime later. We stayed in Numbul that night with kind strangers. The next morning the entire village started back, anxious and edgy. Our home was there, untouched!
I realised what the three-storey brick house meant to me. I had always taken it for granted. But it was home, my 46 only home. I rushed into our courtyard. Father was standing on the verandah. I shook his hand. My younger brother told him that he had seen me crying. Father pretended not to hear him. We went around checking each room facing the road for signs of damage. Grandfather pulled out the cartridges with pliers.
We looked at them for a few moments, and then threw them away. Yet some of the old routines continued, unaffected by war. By late afternoon, father was sitting in his usual corner in our drawing room, a few books and a boiling samovar of tea by his side. My brother and I sat facing him. Every now and then, a friend or a relative would drop by and the tales of the night past were recounted. More military camps were being set up in Kashmir. Military vehicles, armed soldiers, machine guns poking out of sandbag bunkers were everywhere; death and fear became routine like going to school, playing cricket and football.
At times we forgot about the war around us; at times we could not. In the summer of , my aunt was pregnant and mother constantly worried about a militant attack or a crackdown in our village. Her husband, my grandfather, and my mother talked about moving her to the hospital in Anantnag.
The shops were closed, there was no traffic, and the neighbourhood boys played cricket with a tennis ball on the road. Grandfather found one of the two private taxi drivers in our village, a tall, bald man called Dilawar Khan. Just as they were ready to leave, an acquaintance from a nearby village arrived on his scooter and told them to wait.
Militants had attacked a military convoy near the hospital in Anantnag and a severe gun battle was going on. My aunt was in much pain and my mother tried to calm her, while her husband walked in and out of the house nervously, and grandfather prayed. After a while, we could not wait any further. Mother and uncle sat with my aunt in the back seat of the taxi. Even if they have brought out tanks I will get her to the hospital, 5 Dilawar told grandfather.
Grandfather sat on the front seat with him and they left for the hospital. Almost everyone from our neighbourhood had assembled to see them off. After they left we stood by the roadside for a long time. Three hours later, Dilawar pulled up outside our house. I drove really fast. After all, even they are human beings.
We got there on time. A patrol of soldiers walked in and suddenly our hands went to our pockets, for our identity cards. A soldier stopping near you meant trouble. It meant an identity check, a possible beating or a visit to the nearest army camp. Or he might simply order you to carry a bag of supplies to his camp. Soldiers forcing civilians to work for them was common. The soldier who walked towards my friends and I only wanted to purchase batteries for his radio.
I directed him to the shop of Bashir Lala, my mother's second cousin, a good-natured simpleton, somewhat famous in the extended family for his cowardice, at whose expense we often sought a laugh.
The town nearest to our village is officially named Anantnag but the locals mosdy refer to it by its traditional name, Islamabad — though the soldiers would beat anyone who used Islamabad, as it is also the name of the Pakistani capital. One day Bashir was visiting relatives in Anantnag. He had been reminding himself to say Anantnag and not Islamabad if a soldier asked where he was headed. His bus was stopped at a checkpost outside the town and a soldier 49 demanded: Anantnag, not Islamabad.
I saw Bashir rise from his wooden seat, walk to the stairs leading to the shop, sweating and shivering. He addressed the soldier, "What have I done, sir? Do not believe these idiots, they have no other work but to tease me. I am only a small shopkeeper. Bashir fumbled through the few wooden shelves of his shop, found nothing, and apologised again. Bashir watched the column of soldiers till they disappeared. Only then did he dare to shout: You joke with me!
Then he hid his head between his knees, covered it with his hands and broke down. I have a heart problem and these guns terrify me. Yes, I am a coward. I have to marry them off before I die. I understood his fear better, later, during the winter vacations. I was taking science and maths tuitions in the morning from a teacher in our village.
I hated waking up early on winter mornings in Kashmir. The reception on our television was bad and my brother and I spent hours adjusting the antenna. I carried the antenna 50 attached to a wooden staff from our roof, to the lawn, to the cowshed, rotating it slowly in all directions.
My brother would run between the drawing room and my position breathlessly to report the progress. Sometimes the TV would catch the images but the sound would be blurred; sometimes we could get clear sound and figures would appear on the TV screen as if on the negative of an old black and white photograph.
Eventually we found the right place for the antenna and the image and sound would synch. One night my younger brother and I watched The Three Musketeers.
I had lowered the volume to a bare minimum, lit a night lamp, and closed the curtains to avoid attracting any attention. Outside, the curfewed night lay in its silence like a man waiting in ambush. The Three Musketeers fought, frolicked, and entertained us for a while. Then the rumble of military trucks outside blurred their duels.
We switched off the TV and peeped through the curtains; the headlights of the trucks lit up the empty road and the surrounding houses. After the convoy had passed, there was silence and above us all, an indifferent moon reclining over the clouds.
This is an urgent announcement. The army has cordoned off the village. Every man and boy has to assemble in the hospital lawns by six. It is a crackdown. Every house will be searched. The women can stay at home. Few responded to his early morning calls for prayer. But the announcement of the crackdown seemed to give his voice a new power. Within minutes my family had gathered in 51 the kitchen. After a quick breakfast, grandfather, father, my brother, and I stepped outside on the road.
Small groups of men and boys from our neighbourhood were already standing by the closed storefronts. A small crowd of freshly washed faces began a reluctant journey through the empty market towards the hospital compound. The light mustard sun half hidden behind the mountains touched the tin roofs of the houses. We walked in the misty light between rows of soldiers in greenish metal helmets cradling assault rifles and machine guns, past the forlorn shops.
The women had been ordered to stay at home; mother and aunts would soon be opening the doors of every room and every cupboard for the soldiers looking for militants, guns, or ammunition.
Kashmir was rife with stories of soldiers misbehaving with women during crackdowns. And many angry thoughts ran through my mind. I followed father. Soldiers barked at us to walk faster. We obeyed. Another group asked us to pull out our identity cards and raise our hands. Within seconds a long queue formed at the hospital gate. Two parallel lines of raised hands, the right hand holding firm the proof of identity, a few inches higher than the empty left hand.
There was no distinction between the farmhand and the judge, just one man behind the other. I entered the hospital compound; several hundred men were sitting on the cold, bare hospital lawns that had a few blades of grass left. Father, grandfather, my brother and I sat with a group of our neighbours. A military officer ordered visiting relatives and guests to stand in a separate group away from the residents of the village.
Then they were ordered to walk in a queue past an armoured car. Each man was asked to stop near the window and show his face to the masked mukhbir, a Kashmiri man who had become a collaborator and identified militants and their supporters.
Some mukhbirs were volunteers who worked for money. Some mukhbirs had joined the troops to seek revenge on militants for the killing of a family member. Some time ago, militants had taken an alleged mukhbir to the canal running along the mountain towering over our village, and shot him.
They had thrown the injured man into the canal and left him to die. Fortunately, the injured man, who turned out to be an unemployed former student of my grandfather from a neighbouring village, survived. Over the next few hours we were told to form queues and walk past the mukhbir. If he raised his hand, the soldiers pounced upon him and took him away for interrogation.
My turn came. I stood facing the cat whose eyes stared at me from behind his black mask. My heart galloped but I tried not to look nervous. He waited for a moment and asked me to move on. His father had earlier run a hotel at a nearby tourist resort. After the fighting began and the tourists stopped coming to Kashmir, they had locked the hotel.
His father opened a grocery shop after modifying a room on the ground floor of their house. Manzoor went to school but on the frequent days of hartals against an arrest, arson, or custodial killing by the soldiers, when schools remained closed he manned the shop. He was a gregarious and talkative teenager. Occasionally the militants passing by would stop to buy something from his shop or simply sit and talk to the people there.
Manzoor loved the attention he received and flaunted his position of being able to talk to many commanders. The army seemed to have heard. Then two soldiers came towards us. He is a ninth class student. I stood up. I followed them, not turning back to see how my father or grandfather were reacting.
We entered the three room building. I had been there many times to see the doctor, who was a family friend. The room was empty and had a single window facing the village mountain.