The ninety-ninth cup of nun chai


When Abdul Uncle learnt about Cups of nun chai he said 2010 held great promise, but it had all turned to nothing with the heavy hand of the Indian state. In this sense, 2010 had not been very different to the last twenty years of Uncle’s experiences.

He was quiet for a moment. Uncle is the kind of person who thinks before speaking.

After sometime he looked towards me and said Kashmir had a long history that went back much further than India’s. And so, with that basic premise our conversation began, unfolding as it did like a personalised walk through the mythological and modern political history of Kashmir.

Uncle told me a story about King Solomon’s journey to Kashmir at a time when the region was mostly underwater, thousands upon thousands of years ago. King Solomon, whom Islam recognises as the Prophet Suleiman, had flown to Kashmir and landed by the Hari Parbat Hill in Srinagar. According to popular myth the King and Prophet Suleiman aided the settlement of Kashmir by regulating the water in the region and encouraging it to flow smoothly along the Jhelum and out past Barramulla. Uncle also mentioned that at some point in Hindu mythology Brahma’s grandson visited Kashmir long, long ago.

Sitting at an important juncture on the silk trade route, people from all over the world had come to settle in Kashmir; currents of migration that built the syncretic Kashmiri identity Uncle was so proud of today. He spoke of the Nagas, and the Brahmas and the Jews from Egypt who migrated during the time of the Pharaohs’. In its essence, and as an ideal of both the distant past and the near present, Uncle saw Kashmir as a multi-cultural space.

As Uncle spoke on, with so many diverse and obscure pieces of information about Kashmir, I was amazed at how this fluid, multilayered sense of history and mythology shaped his understanding of who he was. And inturn, this strong sense of self became his way of articulating how Kashmir was different from India.

Soon Uncle’s personal trajectory reached the modern era of history. For almost 100 years, between 1846 until 1947, Kashmir’s struggle had been against Dogra rule. He said that 1947 had been a turning point and shortly after Sheikh Abdullah became the first Indigenous head of government that Kashmir had seen for centuries; although Kashmir was no longer whole. The newly formed sibling nations of India and Pakistan soon divided and occupied the region with their own interests at heart. Sheikh Abdullah was soon imprisoned by India, and during the tenor of his imprisonment Uncle said a number of laws were changed. Two decades later, upon his release in the early 1970’s Abdullah was relegated to the position of Chief Minister of the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir. For Uncle this was seen as a major betrayal to the idea of Kashmir’s independence, a compromise that Sheikh Abdullah never lived down.

Uncle spoke of the rigged elections in the 1980’s and the armed movement that emerged in response during the 1990’s. He said today India occupied virtually all the water resources and power houses of Kashmir, along with a major portion of its richest agricultural land. ‘Just take a look around’, he said, ‘we are living under siege.’

Uncle’s words were full and heavy with the knowledge that anything can happen here, in an environment where the food and water and power are in the hands of an occupying force that does not agree with you. In 2010 – the eruption of anger, the protests, this ability to face bullets with stones – was not at all isolated but, as Uncle explained, the events of 2010 were deeply connected with what has really been a centuries long history of struggle in Kashmir.

But today, Uncle lamented, things are so dire that we cannot even protest against the dogs that are biting people on the city’s streets. Politicians come here to defend animal rights but not the rights of humans. He said that in one year more than 500 women died in a local hospital due to negligence and we were not allowed to protest. Uncle said, ‘This is no way to live. We are not living. We are simply dragging ourselves through this life.’

He said he did not see change in the near future. Kashmir was stuck in a cycle and he did not know when it would end. There had been real hope in 2010, but he said Pakistan had been silent, adding that they did not even support us properly in the media. ‘We have been betrayed on a number of fronts, and now,’ Uncle said, ‘Kashmir has nowhere to turn.

Time would pass. Every year or so violence would erupt. And people would die. This was life under occupation. But because the occupation had itself created a state of equilibrium in which injustice had been normalised, things would continue until something drastic changed. Until then Uncle was waiting.


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