A young Kashmiri recalls his youth and journalistic apprenticeship in a “fragile fairyland” torn apart by the war for independence.
Born in 1977 in Anantnag to a family of educated Muslims, Peer was expected to join the Indian civil service when he grew up, which would ultimately offer a better position in the bureaucracy than his father had attained. However, by the early ’80s civil unrest was widespread. Kashmir’s promised autonomy, granted by India in 1947, was gradually restricted, and the populace began agitating for independence. The guerrilla organization JKLF (Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front) was formed in 1990 and led by 21-year-old militant Yasin Malik. Kashmiri youth were recruited into rebel groups, bused into Pakistan for training and given “magical” Kalashnikovs. Peer experienced both the hero-longing to join up—his father convinced him to stay in school—and the tragedy of learning the fate of those who did, such as his promising cousin Tariq, who killed in a raid. Every aspect of life was disrupted, especially Peer’s boarding school, partly commandeered by the Indian military so the students could hear the screams of rebels being tortured at night. Peer attended Delhi University and studied law, though he left school in 2000 and sought out jobs as a journalist, allowing him to travel between India and Kashmir and offer testament to the ongoing violence. At one point he tracked down survivors from the notorious Papa II torture center, whose stories were almost too painful for him to write about. The second part of the book is a meandering travelogue, as the author recounts sites disfigured by war, such as the once-elegant capital, Srinagar, rendered a “City of No Joy.”
Peer tenderly addresses aspects of religion, military and family kinships, but the narrative feels too lightweight for the subject matter.