The twenty-first cup of nun chai


Glen didn’t mind the flavour of nun chai at all. He asked about its pink colour, the salty flavour and the reasons behind the use of bi-carb soda.

We spoke about Kashmir. It seemed as though all this information from last Summer was falling from my mouth. My hands were drawing the shape of Kashmir, mapping it, on the table that sat between us.

Glen listened. His eyes were sensitive.

He asked about what Kashmir wanted, and we came to the many ideas of Azadi (freedom).

Because of history there is a deep rooted scepticism in Kashmir towards the idea of life under any other nation’s rule. When I was in Kashmir so many people wanted to reiterate the fact that the problems didn’t begin in 1947 but back in 1846 when the British sold Kashmir to the Dogras through the Treaty of Amritsar. I am reminded of the historical reputation of the Kashmiri people as a “docile” lot, and the way that my friend Fayaz recently noted on Facebook that thanks to excessive militarisation of the region Kashmiris now fall under the broader category of “resistant” and “resilient”.

Glen said he thought the project was a nice way to respond to the situation; a point of engagement that seemed to be at once poetic and relevant. I received a lot of positive feedback and constructive advice when the project was developing. But I did have two close friends in New Delhi who were sceptical of the project, in the way that the act of having a cup of tea in a far off distant place might belittle the reality of daily life under a military occupation as it plays out on the ground in Kashmir today. After all, how can a cup of tea replace a human life? It can’t by any stretch of the imagination.

Glen said he could understand that kind of hesitation – but there is no way to evade such risks unless we choose to do nothing. Besides raising awareness, producing a statement, Glen said the project was also a kind of honourable way to take note of a life that was no more.

We spoke about conventional protest. Glen believed we had a responsibility to respond to all forms of oppression in the world be it political, religious or sexual. But he also questioned the impact of conventional protest – at least in places like Australia. Perhaps if he were in another place he would take to the streets – but times had changed and he held reservations about its effectiveness here.

I thought of places like Town Hall in Sydney and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi –  zones of public space which the state officially cordons off to legitimise and legalise dissent. In spaces like this protest often becomes a scripted routine – like radio commercials that you can simply switch off.

But there will always be moments, slippages and instances that can make things suddenly relevant; cases where the volume refuses to be soft.

That happened in August this year, when for one evening a peaceful protest gathered at Jantar Mantar voicing opposition to the killing and violence that was taking place in Kashmir. In the heart of India’s capital this protest broke New Delhi’s silence over Kashmir and slogans of Azadi rang out on the city’s streets.


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