Basharat Peer is a journalist whose work has appeared in The Guardian, The New Statesman and the Financial Times magazine. Clearly an experienced and methodical reporter, he knows how to source the vitals of a story, as it were. In this compelling 221-page work, he recalls a relatively prosperous childhood spent in a small village in the Southern Kashmiri district of Anantnag. (The region of Kashmir is still the source of bitter dispute between India and Pakistan.)
"Despite the apparent tranquility of our lives, " he writes of the mid-eighties period, " I was beginning to get a vague sense of the troubled politics of Kashmir." Cricket matches between India and Pakistan were particularly heated affairs. He recalls his grandmother facing Mecca on her prayer mat and pleading for divine intervention on behalf of Pakistan. In 1991, this son of a civil servant was 15, and like many of the youths in his locality, could easily have joined the JKLF to fight the occupying Indian forces. On one occasion, the bus he was travelling on from school to home was hit by a hail of bullets. He and his fellow passengers were all lucky to get out alive.
In another key scene, his mother, his uncle, and his grandfather - a dedicated and profoundly wise school-teacher - gather ominoulsy around young Peer. He has just returned from boarding school, there is the sense of great potential in his life, potential which could be put at risk, were he to join the militias. "Mother looked at me and said nothing. Grandfather fixed his watery green eyes on me. "How do you think this old man can deal with your death?" he said. His words hit me like rain on a winter morning." The young Basharat has no reply and the scene continues. "You don't live long in a war, son." Grandfather's words brought me back. He had tears in his eyes.'
In 2003, after years spent in Delhi, Peer revisits Kashmir and is admirably persistent and patient in his search for victims of the conflict who have their own individual stories to tell. Injuries, depression and `non-existent careers' are the norm for many young men in the locality, due to the conflict, with inevitable marriage delays and confusion. Torture by Indian forces has particularly sinister consequences, and Peer meets victims, both male and female. One woman was raped by Indian soldiers within hours of her marriage, after the bridal party were ordered off the wedding party bus.
He meets Maqbool, a paramedic in the city of Srinagar who tells him about five bodies who were brought to hospital following a grenade blast in the suburbs. The paramedic noticed an arm moving. "I pulled him out he was young and he was alive, " he tells Peer. Some time later, Maqbool met the boy's father, who was coming to collect his son's body, as he fearfully believed. But the anecdote has a rare, fortunate outcome. Maqbool tells the man that his son is alive. The father sat on the hospital floor " and cried and cried." But tears for Kashmir clearly didn't end there.