The thirty-sixth cup of nun chai


I told Ana that this was the 36th cup of nun chai and she said that was great. Yes it was – in one sense. I was happy that the project was gradually coming along. But it was also, at the same time, gut wrenching. It is horrible that people died. And it is haunting that those people died at a faster rate than I am able to have cups of nun chai.

Ana wanted to know more. More about Tufail’s death. More about the protests. And more about the violence. I spoke of the  people who died during the Summer and the 70,000 who have died in the last two decades. Ana’s eyes were sensitive; she almost gasped and then she used the term genocide.

Ana was a little taken by the fact this wasn’t something she had known about. She was frustrated by the selective nature of the media. She questioned what they deemed “important news”. She spoke of the injustice that things like this were allowed to happen at all.

Some months ago Ana met a Pakistani accountant in Sydney. They had a long conversation in which he began to tell her about the history of South Asia and in particular Kashmir. I asked what he had told her specifically and she remembered something about the politics of a river and something else about an important vote that was going to decide things; the River Jhelum and Kashmir’s long awaited referendum.

It was after this conversation, with the Pakistani accountant, that Ana heard about this work and decided to participate. The Pakistani accountant had told Ana that his perspective on Kashmir would probably be different to an Indian’s. Ana and I spoke about the roles that India and Pakistan had played in the dual occupation of the region, the process of Partition and Kashmir’s right to self-determination. Anna was surprised to hear that China was also in the mix.

Our conversation weaved between the tragedies of the region’s conflict and the warmth and humour of its people. Ana said she liked to hear about the good things that also existed despite the bad and then she told me about her time in Cambodia.

She began describing the beautiful big smiles that characterise Cambodia. A friend of Ana’s had set up a local school – under the Khmer Rouge his family had to work in the fields and learn to hide their education so they wouldn’t be killed. In the late 1970’s the Khmer Rouge implemented a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based Communist society – resulting in one of the worst cases of genocide of the twentieth century with an estimated 2 million people dying through murder, torture and starvation. Educated people were seen as a threat to the communist state and routinely killed. Ana told me to read the book First They Killed My Father. She spoke with passion about the history of Cambodia and the importance of education in the region today as people worked to rebuild society after the Khmer Rouge through little things like her friend’s school. As Ana spoke I kept thinking that if this was possible, Kashmir is also.

There is a school principal from north Kashmir, I once met. We had asked him if he thought a solution for Kashmir was possible, and with such ease he had replied “…of course! Just look around the world, look into history. Many conflicts have been resolved. If it can happen somewhere else why can’t it happen here, in Kashmir, today.”


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