Essential reading from Basharat Peer- one of the scriptwriters of Haider- from around the web
Sometimes a movie or a book gets stuck in you so completely you just can’t shake it off. I have been listening to Mehdi Hassan on loop since hearing Gulon Mein Rang in Haider, and am planning a rewatch of every movie that Vishal Bharadwaj ever made to rank them in my head (except perhaps for 7 Khoon Maaf- that movie’s aggressive whimsy eluded me entirely ).
But most of all I’ve been reading everything written by Basharat Peer, whose excellent book Curfewed Nights forms the basis of much of Haider’s milieu and who was one of the credited writers for the movie. Peer writes without rancour (but also without withholding) about his experience as a Kashmiri in the 1980s and 1990s. He doesn’t provide easy answers but also refuses to mollify the reader with a “both sides of the coin” narrative. One of our favourite lines from Haider saw the protagonist admonishing his mother Ghazala and asking her to see things from another perspective apart from just her immediate viewpoint. And Peer specialises in highlighting a unique and personal perspective on Kashmir and the rest of his world.
Here are 5 more pieces you can read from him on the Internet as a start.
1. The Bride With A Bomb- A thought provoking piece of reportage from 2006 in the Guardian in which Peer traces the steps of Yasmeena Akhter a young woman suicide bomber. If you’ve seen Haider, you’ve probably noticed how essential Ghazala and Arshia are to the narrative, perhaps more so than in the original Hamlet, where they aren’t credited with as much agency. As a reflection on the underreported cost of this civil war on women, this article remains a must read even 8 years later.
Women combatants are not part of Kashmiri tradition. Reporting on Kashmir, I have met several women who have suffered physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Indian troops and police officers, as well as the Kashmiri and Pakistani militants fighting them. The latest of such brutalities came to public attention in May this year when it was revealed that scores of teenage girls and young women had been blackmailed into becoming “comfort women” for politicians, police and bureaucrats.
2. Modern Mecca- I was first introduced to Basharat Peer by way of the New Yorker, and this piece on modern haajis remains as good a sample of his work as any. Touching upon the interiority of religion with the exteriority of ritual, relaying the experience of both poor and rich haajis, and outlining the gradual conversion of a pilgrimage into a tourism industry , he paints a beautiful word picture of completing the Hajj with millions of devotees -amongst them Yasin Malik. Once again we are reminded of looking at things from another’s perspective with his simply phrased lines that refer to Malik as their ‘local Che Guevara’ or when he reminds that a Hajj can cost as much forty thousand dollars, or twelve times the per capita Income of Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim Country.
3. Water Closes Over Kashmir- Also from the New Yorker, this is one of the surprisingly few on-hand accounts about the recent Kashmiri Floods. It also acts as a timely reminder that even though the floods have abetted, many are homeless and a long harsh winter is expected to arrive soon. Must read, and share as a call for action.
Later in the day, I met Manzoor Alam, who ran one of the largest bookstores in the city. I thought of the rows of literary classics, the carefully curated shelves on contemporary history and politics in his store. Alam told me, “We lost everything.”
All this has taken its toll. Srinagar used to be a city of elegant latticed houses, mosques and temples on the banks of the river. Srinagar was people strolling on the wooden bridges and wandering into old bazaars or stepping with a prayer into a Sufi shrine with papier-mâché interiors. Now it is a city of bunkers, a medieval city dying in a modern war. One of the most prominent landmarks of war is the sprawling Martyrs’ Graveyard in north-western Srinagar; several hundred Kashmiris killed in the early days of the conflict are buried here
Part of the Granta Issue on Pakistan, this long (but essential article) touches some of the same issues as Haider in greater depth. If you were left thirsting to know more about the impact of AFSPA, about the burden of a relentless war and its impact on young men and women, then this is as good a place to begin as any.
5. Bound for Success- I’ve chosen this article because it is essential to not just classify Basharat Peer as a Kashmiri writer, or a journalist who writes about Kashmir. He is an excellent reporter with many stories to tell, and this light hearted read about India’s book shops (which won ny heart because of its mention of Ram Advani), and publication industry is a great introduction to some of his other writing.
Unfortunately, this one is behind a paid wall; but totally worth the read if descriptions of Mama-2 in the movie left you with questions and a need to know more. Sometimes it is easy to pretend that so many of the atrocities in the name of religion or nationalism are being performed by The Other on The Other, absolving us of both the guilt and the misery in our heads. It is essential to know that some horrors are closer home than we’d like them to me.
Go ahead, and have an educative Basharat Peer kind of Sunday evening with our selection, and let us know if there’s something we’ve missed out or should have included!
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