The twentysecond cup of nun chai


Chris found the saltiness of the nun chai interesting in comparison to the intense sweetness of the chai he knew was popular across much of South Asia and North India. He wanted to know how nun chai was prepared. When I spoke of the use of bicarb soda, and its ability to ease an upset stomach, Chris drew a parallel with the way we often give soda water and lemonade to those who are sick.

He mentioned something about the cuisine of Kashmir and I was curious to learn what he knew. Chris’s father was an Anglo-Indian who migrated to Australia in the years following India’s independence from the British. Chris had more or less grown up on Indian food, and he was in fact simmering a curry away in the kitchen while we spoke. He said his knowledge of Kashmiri food was drawn mostly from books.

Chris said he had a fair idea of what was going on in Kashmir, along with other instances of oppression throughout the world. He spoke of the politics of power and greed, and he said he liked it when art entered this domain and contested it.

Chris spoke of the media. While he was fond of SBS and ABC here in Australia, there were moments when he found it perplexing that professional journalists, with good university degrees, still managed to gloss over the ‘real stories’. He speculated that it was almost like an unwritten code of some kind, where journalists decided to withdraw at a certain point. And he wondered why.

I told Chris that when I began this project, I was in the process of writing a more conventional journalistic piece on Kashmir. But as I was reading article after article, written by people who were a lot more knowledgeable than me, and watching from a distance the death toll rise and rise, day by day, I began to question what my writing would contribute. I remember it hit me one day, when the death toll had reached 69, that there were now 69 cups of nun chai that would simply no longer be. Chris and I looked down at the cups of tea in front of us.

After sometime Chris said he felt there was a lot of potential for art, music, literature and the like to go where more conventional reportage and thinking stopped.

Chris spoke of his father’s departure from India, and he spoke in an abstract manner about colonialism and neo-colonialism and the way that the oppressed can so easily become the oppressors. He said he was specifically thinking about Israel and Palestine, and he wondered out loud how a people, who had themselves suffered so much persecution, could so collectively persecute another.

Many people draw distinct parallels with the situation between Israel and Palestine and that between Kashmir and India.

Chris said his father had a choice of migrating to America, South Africa or Australia and that, while he was far from being a patriotic person, he was happy his father had chosen Australia.

Thinking of what it means to be “patriotic”, I told Chris about the personal attacks and legal measures that were directed against Arundhati Roy for her remarks over Kashmir. From accusations of being anti-national to charges of sedition, and most recently an FIR that accused Roy of nothing less than “waging war against the (Indian) state”; popular debate in India had become menacing. But it was Roy’s reaction to these incongruous accusations and charges that hit the mark. In response, she simply presented a range of statements made by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that highlighted, from within the very core of Indian democracy, the right of Kashmir to self-determination. As she begins, “Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too.”


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