Ann said the nun chai reminded her of buttered bread. We spoke of the flavour, the ingredients and its preparation. Our conversation danced in nun chai, before settling down to what these cups were all about.
I showed Ann a document produced by the newspaper Rising Kashmir, which listed all the people who died in the first 100 days of violence this past Summer. Ann was drinking the 38th cup of nun chai. On the 2nd of August Khursheed Ahmed War became the 38th person to die; according to the report he was killed by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Her eyes darted below. The 39th person to die was an 8 year old boy named Sameer Ahmed Rah. Again Ann’s eyes darted across the page to another 8 year old – Milad Ahmed Dar, killed on the 19th of August. The death toll now lies at around 117. Numbers jumped out from the page, and Ann was shocked at how young everyone was. There was a moment of pause. A heaviness in the back of the throat that I think we both shared.
I showed Ann a map and she started to conceptualise where Kashmir was in relation to the rest of the world. We saw Kashmir in fragments; divided in parts between India, Pakistan and China. We pieced together the regions of Ladakh, Jammu, the Valley, the Northern Areas and Aksai Chin. We spoke about religion in the region – the diversity of its history and contemporary makeup. I explained the exodus of the Pandit community along with the concurrent rise of an armed movement. But to understand the relationship between religion and politics we had to go further back into history – back to the Treaty of Amritsar and to Partition, to Hari Singh, Sheikh Abdullah and Nehru. There was so much necessary detail. There were so many large and an endless number of smaller narratives. In essence there was so much that needed to be said.
Ann knew of Kashmir as a destination on the hippie trail. Her mother had repeatedly visited the region until mid-1980’s when she was well into her 70’s. I explained the political pressure that had been mounting in Kashmir since the time of Partition. Decades of pressure. Ann began to speak about and imagine the generations of people who must have lived with that pressure. And there are all those that still do.
We spoke about the Hurriyat and I showed Ann images on the internet of Geelani and Yasin Malik. As we spoke about how different generations have experienced the conflict I told Ann about the imprisonment of some of my friends’ fathers and their brothers. Ann asked about torture; it was common and affected people in both psychological and physical ways. Wikileaks released a series of cables this year from the International Committee of the Red Cross that accused the Indian government of condoning the use of torture. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone in Kashmir, only a public confirmation.
As Ann looked at the little map on the screen I could feel her mind ticking. She was trying to work out a way for all these different people, religions, landscapes and countries to come to a point where Azadi (freedom) was available to everyone. It was almost as if for a moment the map became a chess board and she wanted to find a way to move Kashmir out of checkmate.
I wanted to know more about the Kashmir Ann’s mother knew of. I wanted to speak with Ann more about the role of social media, journalism, literature, art and music in Kashmir today. I showed Ann a video of the floating balloon that carried a flag up into the sky in protest on India’s Republic Day. I wanted to speak more about what the events in Egypt would mean for Kashmir. There was so much to say and not enough time. As our discussion came to an end Ann and I looked back at the map. It seemed to come down to the haunting legacy of colonialism, which was not simply a process of “redrawing maps” but the imposition of the whole idea of a map and of a nation in the first place.