Eliza was surprised at the pink colour of the tea, and its saltiness shocked Pete’s taste buds.
He asked if all the fighting in Kashmir, if the reason we were coming together now over the nun chai, was something between Indian and Pakistan. Speaking of the history of South Asia’s Partition and the political turmoil and manipulation that followed suit in Kashmir, I tried to explain that at the heart of the issue lay Kashmir’s right to self-determination. The problem was that both India and Pakistan had vested interests when it came to facilitating or not facilitating that happening, and as a result things had become tragically complicated. More than 60 years later and Kashmir was still waiting for a plebiscite.
I tried to convey the political, emotional and physical occupation of the region by India. Today the valley of Kashmir is the most densely militarised place in the world. Pete was shocked to hear this piece of information. I described the violence that had engulfed Kashmiri society with the armed resistance and the military, which, in the last to decades, has seen around 70,000 civilians dead. It’s important to understand, how a society that has collectively lost so much life decides to drop the gun and take up a different kind of tactic in their struggle for azadi (freedom). I described the protests and stone throwing that filled the valley this past summer and the Indian state’s killing of more than 100 civilians in response.
Pete and Eliza questioned why this wasn’t in the media, why they hadn’t heard of it. Pete spoke of the media’s selective saturation of specific stories, like Prince William’s marriage. Eliza thought it was because the media tried to show people what they ‘thought’ people wanted to hear. Through Kashmir we were suddenly reminded of and overwhelmed by the atrocities that were taking place all over the world. The Pike River Coal mine disaster had been on our television sets all of last week. Eliza recalled a story she heard on the radio coming home from work one night about an army of children in the Congo. Eliza was herself a mother of two, and what she described about the tactics that were being used to turn children into killers, was almost beyond words.
Pete couldn’t stand the nun chai. Although I told him he needn’t finish the cup – he was determined to get to the bottom of it. He thought about the young men in Kashmir, and swallowed the tea.
Pete’s brother had visited Kashmir in ‘88 or ‘89. Staying on the Dal Lake for quite some time, he had fallen in love with the place and Pete’s idea of Kashmir had taken shape through his brother. Pete had heard of a beautiful and welcoming place that was captivating; a mixture of the landscape and that famous Kashmiri hospitality.
I imagine that Pete’s brother probably experienced the last moments of a Kashmir before the conflict took centre stage. I thought of the generation of Kashmiris, those of my own generation, who never had the chance to live in the Kashmir Pete’s brother had seen. They had been raised in a time now characterised by violence, conflict and war – whatever word one can give such a thing.