The fifty-fourth cup of nun chai


“Is nun chai particularly hot tea?” Beatrice asked, “Because in India people drink very hot tea.” I had never thought of tea in India or Kashmir as being particularly hot. But her question made me remember burning my tongue on a hot cup of nun chai that came from a big fiery samovar at a friend’s home in Kashmir. A samovar is a kind of teapot made of copper with an internal cavity that holds hot charcoal, which boils the tea from the inside out. Samovar tea is always hotter, smokier and tastier.

This is the 54th cup of nun chai. When I began this work the death toll in Kashmir was at 69. Since then it had almost doubled. Beatrice asked if the date I was counting from was related to my own arrival or departure. By chance, it was almost one year to the day since I left Kashmir. And the following day was the one-year anniversary of Tufail Ahmed Mattoo’s death. Over the following months, more than a hundred families and countless others mourned the day that marks the one year anniversary of their loved one’s passing.

In 2011 many media outlets in Kashmir marked this anniversary with in-depth coverage. Kashmir 2010 Lest we Forget, is the name of a blog that was set up to compile information about those who died during the summer. The blog begins with a famous quote from the author Milan Kundera: The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Beatrice asked what the summer of 2010 had achieved. She said something I didn’t properly catch about what it means to die for a struggle, but she wanted to know more about what the events of 2010 had brought about. What did they mean now? I tried to put the protests in historical context; the increasingly repressive political sphere of a divided Kashmir post-1947; the armed violence; the trauma. Enough. The summer of 2010 felt different, fuelled by the power of stones and the strength of words. In 2010 people said enough was enough. In his book of the same name, Sanjay Kak described ‘Kashmir’s new intifada’ as an intifada of the mind. Perhaps that is the achievement.

Beatrice spoke of Tunisia. She spoke of the young man who set himself on fire and sparked a revolution. He was educated, unemployed and trying to run a small market stall when the government confiscated all his stock because his papers were ‘not in order’. Enough. One has to draw a line at some point. One has to say when enough is really enough.

Beatrice is from Guatemala, a place often described as a ‘post-conflict society’, though in reality she tells me it is a society deep in the midst of conflict. Guatemala is shaped by a violence of the everyday. She asked how the killing stopped in Kashmir and if the death toll was still rising. She used the phrase “systematic killing”. The word “systematic” lingered. It hovered, hauntingly over the winter cool and the oncoming summer. I hoped for a summer of remembrance and not another summer of systematic killing.

This was the day the newspaper ban was lifted after three months. Below is the cover of the newspaper that day.




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