The eleventh cup of nun chai

29.10.10

Anna was an old friend. It was on her front porch one day, drinking nun chai and speaking about Kashmir, that she suggested I should think about doing something with nun chai and Kashmir artistically. But now, months later as we sat together with the nun chai, we were not entirely sure how to begin.

I blurted out that I cried this morning for the first time in a while. I watched a video of John Berger reading Ghassan Khanafani’s Letter from Gaza. I then opened Facebook and came across a post from a friend who had recently returned home to Kashmir. This was the third consecutive year that he was unable to go home for Eid. But 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 Fayaz’s words on a piece of paper, and I handed it to Anna. I couldn’t read them without crying. She read them to herself and then we drank nun chai in silence.

Eventually words emerged. Anna commented, “I don’t really know anyone who uses Facebook as seriously as you.” I didn’t understand what she was saying, what she meant by the word ‘serious’. But it was Fayaz’s post. The stark difference between his post and what she was used to reading on Facebook left her speechless. I didn’t use Facebook until I returned to Australia earlier that year. Over the previous few months the virtual immediacy of information travelling from Kashmir on Facebook had astounded me. News, personal accounts, information, debates – there was a real, urgent and fiery energy. “I know you’re not alone in your Facebook seriousness,” Anna remarked, “but you are the only one of my 500 Facebook friends who is.”

In September 2010 a video circulated online depicting Kashmiri youth who were forced to walk naked across a field by Indian Security Forces. The video was posted to my Facebook page and sent in a private message to my inbox. Initially I didn’t watch it. I felt unsure about the implications of watching something that was designed to humiliate and in turn contributing to that humiliation. After reading about the government’s concern, I came back to view the video a few days later and suddenly it wasn’t there. The video, that had been named ‘Kashmir – India’s Abu Gharib’ (sic), had disappeared from Youtube, my Facebook timeline and my private messages. Delhi based writer and artist Shuddhabrata Sengupta remarked on Kafila.org, 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 the mechanisms for online erasure are pervasive the video found a way to circulate via email – from person to person or rather from inbox to inbox. They’re trying to contain the internet, but during that summer in Kashmir it was an important (albeit monitored) tool of resistance.

 

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