The fortieth cup of nun chai


David lives with his family in an old industrial warehouse they converted, over the last twenty years, into a very warm and unique home. As we sat at the kitchen table David asked how I came to be in Kashmir, and in India more generally. It was almost accidental really; a number of things fell into place and then there I was for 2 ½ years. Living.

I poured the nun chai. David knew these cups were for the people who had died after I left Kashmir in June last year but he said, quite honestly, that he needed me to explain the basics of the “Kashmir issue” – if one could call it an issue. To put the events of last summer in context, I went through the history of Kashmir more or less from Partition to the present day. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter without over complicating or simplifying the story for David.

He was surprised. David said he liked to think of himself as a relatively informed person of the world – but he actually knew next to nothing about what was happening in Kashmir. He thanked me and said he was glad to learn something. Next time he hears the word ‘Kashmir’, David said his ears will prick up and he will listen.

After he tasted the nun chai David said, very seriously, how lucky we were to be drinking this; a billion people in the world go to bed hungry and others are killed. David said, ‘Something is not right.’ 20% of the world’s population use 80% of its resources. David described society, at least here in Australia, as fat. He was not referring to the physical fat-ness of individual bodies but rather he was speaking about the over abundant and decadent ways in which life here is now structured. We spoke about the immensity of information that circulates in the world today – and the impossibility of ever understanding it, but attempting to all the same. There was a need to slow down. Cups of tea helped to slow things down while opening up space for conversation and understanding. David felt there was an importance in speaking. I did too.

We spoke about the media and then also about cinema. David told me about a remarkable independent film called Son of a Lion, which was made by an Australian paramedic in collaboration with the Pashtun community in Pakistan. I told David about some of the different films and documentaries coming out of Kashmir, in particular Harud (Autumn), which I had only read about and was still yet to see.

David asked about religion in Kashmir and about resources. Was it a war over resources? Our conversation did not so much move in the direction of individuals or specific localities or experiences, but rather to broader, global, societal conditions. I thought of the geopolitical currents that Salman Rushdie evoked through the intimate lives of his characters in Shalimar the Clown (2005).  As David thought about Kashmir he seemed to intuitively articulate the kind of dark undercurrents of contemporary society, drawing concrete links between political and environmental violence in the modern era. This was important. The violence in Kashmir was not an aberration.

David said the last 150 years of human activity must be so drastically different to all that has come before. He said something had to give. I said it will. But perhaps I should have said it already is.


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