The forty-ninth cup of nun chai

17.03.11

Kay said it was terribly sad. The movement of her body showed how her mind was grappling with the situation in Kashmir I had just described. When she said it was terribly sad she meant it.

The saltiness of the tea surprised her. But Kay had a liking for salty things and said she might soon find herself accustomed to its flavour. With the story of Kashmir in the background and the flavour of nun chai in our mouths we spoke on.

Kay asked about another project of mine called Paper txt msgs from Kashmir. In late 2009 the Indian government had banned all pre-paid phone connections in Kashmir citing reasons of ‘security’. Virtually over night, more than 400,000 mobile phone users – people conducting business, college students, families, distanced lovers – were left without means of telecommunication and the event passed with little more than a murmur across the Indian media. I was aware of the violence in Kashmir – but the sudden banning of all pre-paid phone connections seemed to illuminate the absurdity of the occupation and the extent of its impact upon peoples’ everyday lives. In response, 1000 “paper txt msgs” – specially designed 4×4 inch pieces of card – were distributed around the valley of Kashmir as a tongue-in-cheek “replacement” for pre-paid phone services. The paper txt msgs were a cheeky platform through which people were able to vent their frustrations.

Kay said at around the same time there had been an increase in identification procedures for mobile phone connections here in Australia. I told Kay that in India photo ID is also required to get a sim card, yet in Kashmir the process was more extreme and involved police verification. While pre-paid connections were eventually restored in February 2010, it is routine for the government to cut phone connections, block text messaging services and disrupt the internet. After last Summer it is now only government phone connections that operate in Kashmir and SMS services have ceased completely. Kay guessed that these services were probably all monitored anyway.

Mobiles phones have an added importance in an area of conflict where one is forever uncertain if a loved one will return home. Kay wanted to know how people were communicating now in Kashmir. I spoke of Facebook and the emergence of online networks in recent years. She was surprised they had not been shut-down, but I explained some of them had been hacked into and individuals had been arrested for what the government deemed to be “anti-national” activities online.

As I spoke about the proliferation of creative forms of resistance with people from Kashmir writing, making films, producing music – Kay smiled and said this would help. Her words felt strong.

She asked if any of the families of the people who had died in the Summer of 2010 knew about this project. I said a lot of people in Kashmir and in other parts of the world were accessing the blog – some had contacted me but it didn’t seem any of them had lost family members directly. Kay had herself produced an artwork that involved the life of someone and she thought it was important that the families of those who died in Kashmir last year know about these cups of nun chai.

We neared the end of our cups. I said to Kay she needn’t finish the whole cup if the salt was a bit overwhelming – but she said, No. I’m finishing it. I’m finishing it for those who died in the Summer of 2010.

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