The fifty-sixth cup of nun chai


Peter and I sat together on the veranda while the nun chai simmered away inside on the stove.

In order to get a clearer sense of where and what Kashmir is we used key words to search the net. First we looked at maps; an image of Kashmir lodged between and occupied by India, Pakistan and China. It was coloured brown, orange and green. We next looked at the landscape in detail. Peter’s own country lay in the remote East Kimberly region of Western Australia – it is a landscape renowned for its beauty. But Peter’s country is also replete with the contemporary legacy of colonisation; Kashmir’s story has resonance here too. But it was the snow capped mountains that first caught his eye. Looking at the green and at the rivers Peter said that Kashmir looked like good country. He smiled, gently, and tilted his head to the side.

Finally we came across images of the protests that engulfed Kashmir last Summer. Describing the preceding decades, I tried to contextualise how stone throwing emerged in Kashmir and where the protests were coming from. I could feel Peter examining the images with his eyes; they seemed to pull apart the dialectic that lay between the men in uniform and those without. The very recent colonial histories of the East Kimberley and the tension that underlies relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people here today resonated with Kashmir.

Peter asked where the tea came from. We looked at the dry dark green leaves stored in my little tin. He smelt them. We searched the internet again trying to find an image of the plant that nun chai came from. Peter spoke of the Dilmah tea from India that was sold at the local store.  The nun chai was almost ready. I decided to make some chapatti, very quickly. Peter sat on the veranda and waited patiently.

When I came out from the house, carrying the nun chai and chapatti, Peter turned to me and said, “So….they might lock you up, over there, for all this you’re doing.”

As we drank the nun chai we looked out at a small tin shed that lay rusting in the distance. Police used to use that shed as a lock up for the local drunks during gymkhana and rodeos. Peter giggled at the idea of the old people from his community getting locked up in there together when they were young. He said once they found an escape route, and climbed out through the roof.

Peter wondered if people in Kashmir were scared to speak out. He reasoned that it might be important for people outside the region do something if people within Kashmir were themselves feeling intimidated. I thought of the older people from Peter’s community who held living memories of being beaten, and even shot, for speaking out against white pastoralists. We spoke a little about government control in general and how these things move through society. In the community of Warmun where Peter and I lived I felt as though I was watching Foucault’s theory of bio-power and governmentality enacted on people by the state every day.

There had been a relatively recent outburst of writing by very young people in Kashmir, who were writing stories that had not previously been told. Peter said it was important that young people listened to the old people first – that they learnt the old peoples’ stories before telling there own. His words were rooted, deep, in the loss of knowledge that is taking place across generations of Indigenous people in the East Kimberly today. The old people are dying, and with it so much of their knowledge.

I would also have nun chai with the old people here in Warmun, and Peter joked that once they taste nun chai they might ask me to prepare whole billy-cans of the stuff for them every day. They could be a demanding lot. We spoke about how common nun chai is in Kashmir, and how it is drunk at all times of the day, usually accompanied with some kind of bread. I spoke about how this project came into being. How people were being killed last year in Kashmir, how people were dying daily, and how I thought of the empty cups of nun chai that would be sitting in people’s homes. But before I could finish explaining, Peter held his cup up a little, subtly gesturing forward, and he said, ‘That is what these cups are for.’


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