The thirty-seventh cup of nun chai

24.01.11

It was late afternoon and the wind was still warm. I told Susie that nun chai was much nicer in cold weather. But isn’t it hot, like this, in India? she asked.

I explained that nun chai is common only in Kashmir with similar variations in other mountainous Himalayan regions, like Tibet. But in most of India nun chai is just as foreign a drink as it is here in Sydney. Implicitely, Kashmir’s independence emerged through the tea. Susie got it.

The Summer of 2010 needed a historical context, and we began to speak about the history of Kashmir and its geographical fragmentation over time. Susie listened. We spoke of the everydayness of nun chai. We spoke of its flavour. We spoke of the escalating loss of life over the Summer months of 2010. We spoke of the dead. And we spoke of what our own cups of nun chai could come to mean.

Susie asked if I ever felt scared in Kashmir. But fear is not the right way to understand things here. I never felt scared but it is scary how quickly a military occupation can become normalised. I remember sitting in a room with three girls my age. We were chatting, laughing away about various things when there was an explosion outside. Just by the sound the girls knew that it was tear gas. No one flinched (except me). That sound, and many others like it, had become a soundtrack; a soundtrack to the years, the months, the weeks, and even the days. These were noises everyone had become accustomed to; a stone, a tear gas canister, a Kalashnikov.

Susie said it reminded her of the situation in Gaza. She had visited Israel with her brother once who was an archaeologist in Jordan, and they had briefly visited Hebron also. We spoke about the differences and similarities that exist between Palestine and Kashmir. In Kashmir Article 370 limits ownership of land in Kashmir to Kashmiri citizens, and this is significant in contrast to Israel’s ongoing displacement of Palestinian people from their land.

There was an image in the newspaper of an Israeli man carrying the belongings of a Palestinian man out of a house while the Palestinian man sat by the side of the road outside. The cardboard box that contained his belongings had a picture of a watermelon on it. The Israeli man was literally moving the Palestinian man out of the home he would soon occupy for himself. This image stayed with me.

Kashmir is drawing and learning much from the history of Palestine’s successive intifadas (uprisings). With the shift from guns to stones, and from masked militants moving through dense forests to the faces of youth and women openly on the streets protesting publicly in the face of India’s armed security forces, Kashmir is building a new kind of intifada whose gentler tactics are unveiling the Indian state’s aggression.

We spoke about the normalisation of violence. Susie had lived in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia for sometime, in a town called Katherine where there was a large Indigenous population. Susie said that here in Australia, while we are comfortable to talk about the conflicts taking place in distant places, we have an inability to look clearly at the state of our own backyard. The NT intervention under the Howard government was a complex case in point. Susie had taught art in a high school in Katherine. She loved the experience, but she also spoke of the ways in which violence is more or less allowed to exist as a norm in Katherine – police violence, domestic violence, street violence. A norm that would not be accepted elsewhere in Australia.

As Susie shared some of her personal experiences I was reminded of Italian philosopher Georgio Agamben’s work on the state of exception, as a political environment where law is legally suspended. What is different about Agamben’s thought from his predecessors is that for him this exception is not an aberration but rather one of the most important measures of contemporary states, democracies included. Although shaped by their own unique environments both Katherine and Kashmir are apt examples of the exception Agamben refers to.

There is a need azadi (freedom) everywhere.

 

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