The eighty-first cup of nun chai


It was Anzac Day when I met Paul outside my grandparent’s home at the War Veterans’ Retirement Village north of Sydney.

In Australia and New Zealand Anzac Day is marked as a day of remembrance in honour of those who served and died in military operations for these two countries, and as Paul said having nun chai on this day was such a perfect symbol of memorial that only happenstance could have organised it. Acts of remembering and memorialisation are important though they have the capacity to be swept up and dominated by nationalist and racially driven discourses; the history of Anzac Day in Australia has been shaped by a mix of protest, overbearing nationalism and the solemnity of remembrance. Here I find myself capable of weeping for people, but not for a nation nor for any army.

Paul and I sat on a rock, beside the road, on top of a hill that overlooked the ocean. I had prepared some fresh chapatti and he seemed to enjoy the intensity of the salty tea.

Paul had spent his life between Australia and America, though his formative years had been in the US. He explained that in America you could tell those who served in the military because they put salt in their coffee. Apparently it was a habit that developed whilst in service when soldiers didn’t have access to things like sugar and cream. Somehow, I always imagined that the US army would have an endless supply of sugar and cream. But then, things are not always as they seem.

Unlike the patriotism that drove much of our grandparents’ generation to join the army, Paul said that today in the US people often enlisted in order to gain access to education and a stable pay cheque, only to find themselves thrust into situations where they killed people in the name of a war they found no justification for. Many of these young men and women, who returned home completely disillusioned, were now dedicating their lives to government reform – a situation the state did not quite know how to handle.

As we spoke about Tufail’s death in Kashmir, Paul said that last year, during the Occupy movement something similar happened to a boy in the US, though after being comatose in a serious condition he had been lucky enough to survive. I wonder what shape the Occupy movement would have taken if in response to the 2011 protests the US government had shot more than 100 people, as India had done in Kashmir?

In 2011 Paul had been deeply involved in coordinating many of the Occupy actions across California. He spoke of the organisation that lay behind what appeared as a sudden burst of protest in the US (and more over the world). It all seemed very systematic and methodical; the strategies Paul described felt as though they came from a formalised training rather than a resistance that takes shape through gradual experience and experimentation. I imagined some sort of super network of ultra-efficient-activist-educators swarming across the US with a plethora of workshops. This kind of politicisation felt as though it came from choice as opposed to necessity.

I asked Paul about the lasting impact of Occupy. He said that while it was all over as quickly as it began, the process itself had left behind an experienced and skilled group of organisers and political activists who were now ready to step back into action when the time was right.

With a formal and logical air, Paul said there were a few things Kashmir could do to attain independence and so I asked him to explain. He said that Kashmir needed to secure foreign investment in the valley in order to garner the international community’s support, so that monetarily Kashmir became of interest to them.

Perhaps I am naïve, but if so I would prefer to remain defiantly naïve, by maintaining the belief, however hopeless, that freedom should come not from vested economic interests but from the idea of caring about people and responding to injustice.


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