The twelfth cup of nun chai


My grandfather, Pappy, was surprised to find the nun chai pleasant. He said the flavour was comforting. He understood how it could become quite a habit for those who drink it regularly.

It was Remembrance Day; a day of memorial observed, predominately in Commonwealth countries, to remember the sacrifices made by the armed forces and civilians in times of war, specifically since the end of the First World War. Pappy had fought in the Second World War, but he didn’t mention the fact that it was Remembrance Day until well after we finished the nun chai. Pappy rarely speaks in detail of his experiences during the war. Trauma has a tendency to build silence.

He did, however, ask me if this nun chai was for any one person in particular.

This was the twelfth cup of nun chai. On June 29 Imtiyaz Ahmed Ittoo, a 17 year old from Watergam Dailgam Islamabad, became the twelfth person to be killed in the violence that engulfed Kashmir this past Summer.

Pappy and I spoke of the people who had been killed since I left Kashmir. More than one hundred in total. And we spoke of the 70,000 who were killed before I ever went to Kashmir.

He asked if it was an armed struggle and we spoke of Kashmir in the 1990’s. He asked where the support had come from and we spoke of Pakistan. But it is always more complicated and he understood this well.

I thought of a woman I once saw high above the Jhelum River. She sat by the side of the road with a pile of sacks and her young son, and something about her presence made me look back at her twice. It common local knowledge that some years back the Indian military had sent her husband to Pakistan to collect weapons, and he had never returned home. But while he never came back the authorities reiterated the fact they had no proof he actually went and further there was no proof he was actually dead. The woman looked as though she were waiting; waiting and living life as a half-way-widow, held somewhere between a bureaucracy that refused to know her and a husband who had disappeared.

The person who told me this story said the military and the militancy in Kashmir were often as dependent on each other as the individual links of a larger chain.

I tried to describe to Pappy how things seemed to be different today. Guns had been dropped and in their place were slogans and stones. But the army continues to respond to these stones and slogans with guns and tear gas and torture.

Pappy asked if it was an independent Kashmir that people wanted, and if I thought this was viable. Kashmir has been waiting 63 years for the right to self-determination as Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, promised but later went back on. If one were to look over the events of recent history and to experience today’s military occupation it is difficult to imagine anyone wanting anything but an independent Kashmir. And so it seems, precisely because of the occupation azadi (freedom) has to be made viable.

Pappy said that what Kashmir really needs is a movement emerging from within India that supports its freedom. I thought this was wise. It was strategic. And something that is definitely, though very gradually, snow-balling into shape. I told Pappy about the recent charges of sedition against author Arundhati Roy for remarking “that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India”. And he said, with a quiet though fierce sense of dismay, that the government was losing sight of the freedom of speech.

Pappy said the nun chai had a flavour that he could grow accustomed to.


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