The eleventh cup of nun chai

29.10.10

Anna was an old-time friend. It was on her front porch one day, when I made a cup of nun chai and spoke to her about Kashmir, that she mentioned I should think about doing something with nun chai and Kashmir artistically. But months later as we sat together with the nun chai, we were not sure how to begin.

I blurted out that I cried this morning for the first time in a while. I had watched a video of John Berger reading Ghassan Khanafani’s Letter from Gaza and then I opened Facebook and came across a post from a friend who had recently returned home to Kashmir. Some weeks ago I had been speaking to him about how it was the third consecutive year that he was unable to go home for Eid, and now, at home finally, his Facebook post read:

Fayaz A. Dar has never felt so much insecure at home as this time….
sopore seems haunted, palhallan is peopleless, baramulla is all clashes, in srinagar people fight for spaces….
it hardly seemed a homely home…that is almost lost…
i m still not able to understand how the people have lived the last season…
a tribute to their bravery would hardly be enough…they deserve much more….

I had written these words on a piece of paper, and I handed it to Anna. I couldn’t read them to her. I would have cried. She read them to herself and then we just drank the nun chai in silence for sometime.

Eventually Anna asked what Berger’s association with Kashmir was. It was not strictly Kashmir that he had spoken of – but Palestine…. Ghassan Khanafani’s Letter from Gaza had been addressed to a dear friend, a relation that seemed similar to what Anna was to me.

For a moment our conversation drifted into more personal things. And then, out of the blue, Anna explained that she didn’t know anyone who used Facebook as “seriously” as me. I didn’t understand what she was saying at first, what she meant by the word “serious”. But then I realised she was thinking of Fayaz’s post.

Anna knows me well. I never used Facebook until I returned to Australia earlier this year. I have since used it to stay in touch with friends in India and Kashmir. Over the last few months the virtual immediacy which with information from Kashmir, news and personal stories, circulates online has astounded me. I said I wasn’t alone at all in my “Facebook seriousness”, and Anna agreed that I wasn’t, but that I was the only one of her 500 Facebook friends who was.

We spoke of the online removal of a video in September that depicted Kashmiri youth forced by Indian Security Forces to walk naked across a field. The video had been posted to my Facebook wall and sent in a private message to my inbox. Though when I initially received the video I didn’t watch it. I felt a little reserved about the implications of watching something that was designed to humiliate and in turn being a participant in that process of humiliation. But I read about it and some days later I came back, curious about the government’s concern, and decided to watch the video – and suddenly it wasn’t there. The video, which had become known as “Kashmir – India’s Abu Gharaib”, had disappeared from both Facebook and YouTube, along with all the (apparently) private Facebook messages I had previously received concerning it. In an essay published on Kafila.org Shuddhbrata Sengupta remarked that all this suggests how “the Indian state, or some of its ‘organs’ – ‘lean’ on platforms like Facebook and Youtube to ensure that content that is problematic for its image simply gets erased.”

While these mechanisms of erasure are pervasive the video found a way to circulate via email – from person to person or rather from inbox to inbox. The internet can’t really be contained; and during this Summer in Kashmir it has become an important (albeit monitored) tool of resistance.

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