It was a little after dusk. Joe, Veronica, William and I sat together at the table and they asked me to explain how this project had grown – exactly why we were together now, each with a cup of nun chai before us.
I told a long story. And eventually I came to the day in June that I left Kashmir and the day in June that Tufail, a 17 year old boy, was killed by Indian Security Forces. I spoke of the protests and the state violence that followed; the sudden banning of SMS; the simultaneity of the Commonwealth Games in Delhi; the media coverage or lack there of. I spoke of the rising death toll – one by one. I spoke of nun chai, and the cups that would no longer be in Kashmir any more.
I was caught up in the story, when Veronica intervened and asked if she could taste the tea? I hadn’t realised but while I spoke everyone had been waiting for the right moment to begin. Joe let out a sigh of delight. The nun chai reminded him of tea from Tibet and he asked about butter. William didn’t take sugar so the salt really suited him and so did the bicarb soda. The nun chai reminded Veronica of soup.
Veronica spoke of her visits to Pakistan and India – she was trying to visualise exactly where Kashmir sat amongst it all. Joe brought an atlas to the table and we searched its pages for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Questions of police violence, power and authority returned to the sphere of our conversation about Kashmir. Joe had lived in India some years back, and he recalled the day that he was lathi charged by mistake during Diwali celebrations. The boys of the local land owning families where he lived were basically beyond reach of the police – outside of the law simply because they were the son of someone important. He was thinking about how these vested dynamics of power would play out in a context like Kashmir.
We returned to the map. William, who had read some information about Kashmir before coming, began to show Veronica how Pakistan, India and China were all scrambling for sections of Kashmir. 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 were forced 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 map – one part on page 93 and another on page 64. One part in India and another in Pakistan. William asked how I had first come to Kashmir. It was a normal question but I wondered if perhaps he was curious to know how I found the place with maps like this in the world.
Veronica asked about the government, if Kashmir had its own politicians. Her questions 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. I tried to explain that today in Kashmir there were two types of politicians; namely those who participated in state elections and aligned themselves with the demands of the Indian state, and those of the Hurriyat who refused to participate in the Indian state’s elections, instead demanding Kashmir’s right to self-determination as it had been promised by Jawaharlal Nehru himself.
As we spoke more about Kashmir William kept remarking, with a tinge of sadness and wonder, how rich and complex the world was. At once beautiful and tragic. He related the stone throwing in Kashmir to Palestine. Veronica spoke of Ireland.
Eventually Joe asked if there was a solution for Kashmir and I said there had to be.