The ninety-third cup of nun chai


When I met Khalid outside Sabarmati Hostel in New Delhi we ran into a group of Kashmiri students whom Khalid and I both knew to some extent. It was a nice coincidence, and Khalid said this is what nun chai was all about. Khalid caught up on news from old friends and we spoke about nun chai and this project as a whole. After some time the others departed and Khalid and I sat together talking over two cups of nun chai.

It had been two years since I was last in Kashmir and two years since the violence that shaped the Summer of 2010 began. I pointed to a spot on the road a few hundred metres from where we sat and told Khalid that it was at that spot two years ago that I was told about Tufail’s death.

Although Khalid was from Kashmir he had been living in Bangalore at that time. He remembered when nine people were killed in just one day, and said that watching the number of dead rise became like counting the score of a cricket match. It had been a nightmare of a match that was very much a game of life and death, yet only one team seemed to be accruing runs. When Khalid spoke with friends and family back home in Kashmir at this time he felt guilty for not being there and wondered if somehow his pursuit of studies outside of Kashmir was an unconscious attempt to run away from it all.

He organised a candle lit vigil in Bangalore, for those who died, and had been granted two hours permission to do so from the state police. Half an hour into the vigil the police detained Khalid, but the vigil went on without him and one and a half hours later he was released without harm. Some local organisations in Bangalore had also asked Khalid to work with them on human rights violations in Kashmir on the condition that he would have to separate human rights violations from the question of self-determination and the struggle for azadi (freedom). Khalid refused on the basis that none of these things could be understood in isolation from each other.

Khalid spoke to me in much detail about the different Islamist and secular ideas of azadi in Kashmir, and how often the two are more conflated than we expect. He spoke about the criticality and debate that takes place within the movement itself and how important it is to make space for dissent. Khalid’s opinions on this stemmed directly from the fact that India’s own post-colonial democracy failed miserably in this respect. He also spoke about the place of minority communities in a future Kashmir. The nuanced sensitivity of Khalid’s political being gave a strong and hopeful sense of how beautiful a future Kashmir could be.

But then I thought about the trauma and violence that is now so unavoidably embedded in Kashmir’s being – in its soil and its soul. Thinking about the fact that Cups of nun chai is essentially an act of remembering which refuses to forget, I asked Khalid how one might utilise memory in a way that created a more beautiful Kashmir as opposed to a more bitter one. Khalid said that sometimes within the movement, and within the Hurriyat more specifically, there were calls made by individuals for us to be more ‘practical’ and engage in a dialogue that would ultimately lead to a compromise that while not being ‘ideal’, would at least be ‘realistic’. But it was our memories, Khalid said, that gave us the strength to refuse this kind of compromising practicality.

What Khalid described was about turning one’s memories of some of the most horrific experiences to ever take place in our world into a kind of strength that would enable one to have the persistence and sensitivity to turn Kashmir into a free place. And free in the most fluid and meaningful sense of the word.

This is also what Cups of nun chai and much of my other work is about; small almost obscure gestures that radically attempt to reinstate meaning and beauty into a gut wrenching reality.


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