“Can I please taste the tea?” Veronica politely asked after I completed an extensive monologue about Tufail Ahmed Mattoo, the Indian Security Forces, SMS bans, Delhi’s Commonwealth Games and the rising death toll in Kashmir during the summer months of 2010.
Joe let out a sigh of delight, “This tastes like Tibetan tea. Did you put butter in it?”
“It reminds me of soup. I travelled through Pakistan and India when I was young,” said Veronica, “but I just can’t visualise exactly where Kashmir is.”
Joe found an atlas and brought it to the table. William, who had read up a little about Kashmir before coming, started to explain to Veronica how Pakistan, India and China were all scrambling for sections of Kashmir. We searched the atlas’ pages and I tried to sketch out the area of Kashmir as it would have once appeared as an independent princely state, but even the map we were looking at was divided and vague. We had to turn between pages in order to link together a complete picture of the place. It seemed like a curious coincidence that Kashmir just happened to sit on the edge of each page – one part on page 93 and another on page 64. One part in India and another in Pakistan.
Questions of police violence, power and corruption fuelled our conversation. “I lived in India too. When I was younger, and I was once lathi charged by police during Diwali. I can tell you, it hurts!” Joe said, “It was a mistake on the police’s part. It wasn’t me they were after. But the boys of the local land owning families were beyond the reach of the police. They were outside of the law, just because of their parent’s power. Just imagine how hard things like this must be in a place like Kashmir.”
“Does Kashmir have its own politicians, or are they governed by India?” This was a simple but pertinent question from Veronica that brought us from the Partition of South Asia and the political relations between Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Jawaharlal Nehru to the emergence of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the 1990’s. Today in Kashmir you could say that there are two types of politicians; those who participate in state elections and in so doing legitimise the authority of the Indian state, and those of the Hurriyat who refuse to participate in the Indian state’s elections, and instead demand Kashmir’s right to self-determination as it had also been promised by Jawaharlal Nehru himself.
As we spoke more about Kashmir, William kept remarking, with a tinge of sadness, how rich and complicated the world is. Kashmir’s story reminded William of Palestine. And it reminded Veronica of Ireland. Eventually, Joe asked if there was a solution for Kashmir.
There has to be.