The fifty-second cup of nun chai


Perhaps it had something to do with growing up by the ocean, but as she drank the nun chai Rosie said she felt odd swallowing salty liquid.

Growing up on the coast of Australia one is told, again and again, how important it is not to drink salty seawater because it dehydrates the body. Rosie recalled the idea of being stranded on a deserted island – surrounded by nothing but sand, a palm tree and boundless, undrinkable salty seawater.

But in Kashmir nun chai, literally meaning salt-tea, is one of the most common drinks in the region, with an almost medicinal air. Not only will nun chai rehydrate the body in the mountainous Himalayan region but it can also ease an upset stomach, soothe a sore throat and clear a headache.

It was something that Rosie said last year, about wanting to just sit down and speak to me about what was happening in Kashmir, that is, in retrospect, one among a number of things that lead to the development of Cups of nun chai. We spoke about the chains of seemingly insignificant instances that lead into, accumulate towards and shape what will come; insignificant, as they may seem, these instances shape the flow of life.

But it also made me think of the chain of events that unfolded in Kashmir last Summer. In an art project about love, a friend of mine, Willoh S. Weiland, wrote that, Time’s greatest betrayal is the disproportion of the instant to its impact. This phrase came to my mind as Rosie and I spoke. Recently a fact finding report was released about the summer of 2010 aptly titled Four Months the Kashmir Valley Will Never Forget….This is the disproportion of the instant to its impact.

Rosie was reminded of a phrase she had come across in a book. She said she couldn’t explain how it related, though she felt certain that it did. In dreams begins responsibility. It is a phrase that somehow wakes you. In dreams begins responsibility. Rosie spoke of the seeming insignificance of these cups of nun chai – she spoke of them as small dreams – dreams through which we begin to take hold of a certain sense of responsibility.

I thought immediately of the dream for azadi (freedom) in Kashmir. There is a very real need for everyone to take responsibility for what this azadi means – so that it can take a beautiful collective shape and so that what eventually comes does not morph into even bigger nightmare than what already is.

We spoke further – moving between the story of Kashmir and the world of Warmun, a small Indigenous community in remote Western Australia that had just been more or less washed away by a flash-flood.

The world is complicated, though that complicatedness is also be part of its beauty. But as our conversation continued Rosie and I came to the question of difference. People tend to place a hierarchy on difference by saying my way is better than yours or rather, as happens with the process of colonisation, a deeply internalised feeling that your way is better than mine.

Rosie spoke about how powerful ideas can be – and I left the conversation thinking about dreams, responsibility and difference.


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