The one-hundred and fifteenth, and one-hundred and sixteenth cups of nun chai


Majid and I met with Showkat at his home on a hot afternoon during Ramadan in Srinagar. Due to the fast we did not drink nun chai, but instead spoke of it.

Showkat told me about fatheha-chai, a Kashmiri tradition that takes place at the end of a period of mourning. In Kashmir when there is a death it is the neighbours’ responsibility to feed the mourning family for three continuous days. In reciprocity, on the fourth day, the mourning family serve the neighbours nun chai as a way to mark the end of their mourning. This is fatheha-chai. However, as Kashmiri culture has become more Islamicized in recent years, Showkat explained that this tradition, which was very relevant to the meaning I was giving to nun chai, had begun to wane.

Showkat had been teaching international law and human rights at the University of Kashmir for many years and Majid was a young journalist from Srinagar. Both agreed that it was the strength of familial bonds in Kashmir that lay at the core of the movement’s continuing resilience and vigour. Showkat reasoned that if it were not for our ability to share and to take care of each other, how else would a society survive what Kashmir has?

One of Showkat’s students had been preparing a document in Urdu about those who died in the Summer of 2010. He was apologetic that I would not be able to read it, but he also emphasised the importance of making this information available in Urdu for non-English speaking people in Kashmir. As Showkat handed me a book in English about the Summer of 2010 he distinctly said that it was a publication produced by the Indian establishment and that it had to be read in light of this. As we spoke Showkat progressively pulled more and more books from the shelf, including Facets of Resurgent Kashmir, a collection of his own writing that had been published in local newspapers between 1999 and 2008.

Some years back the Chief Minister phoned the editor of the daily newspaper Greater Kashmir, and gave them a list of names the state did not want to see in print. Showkat was on that list and he was told that it was no longer a matter of what one wrote, but the mere presence of his name.

Majid and I looked over three photocopied documents from the State Government of Jammu and Kashmir, which, in 2010 led to the complete shutdown of local television networks in the valley. Ironically these documents accused local news networks of broadcasting content that had “the potential of creating a breach of peace and tranquillity”, while on the streets outside the armed forces shot at, beat and killed unarmed and stone throwing protestors, those in mourning and those simply passing by. Two years later local television has still not returned to air in Kashmir and Showkat has a difficult time getting his writing published. Though people don’t forget easily, and this absence has its own kind of presence.

I asked Majid and Showkat when freedom would come. For Showkat it was a geopolitical issue. He explained that it was the weakening of the British Empire after WWII, which led to their withdrawal from South Asia. Kashmir needed something similar to happen – something that either weakened India or brought about international intervention.

Majid speculated that maybe someday freedom would come by default. Something would happen somewhere in the world and someday he’d simply wake up in the morning to find, in the newspaper headlines, that Kashmir was free.

In Shopian Majid once met a small boy who was renowned as a fervent stone thrower. He was not yet 12 years old but had lost three of his family members in the conflict. Often seen at the head of a protest people started calling this boy Jazba, which literally translates into Sentiment in Urdu. Majid asked when Kashmir would get freedom and someone had replied ‘When Jazba (Sentiment) grows up!’

Showkat had once been on a panel discussion with an official from the Indian army, when he had said “As of yet, there have been no weapons invented that are capable of killing peoples’ sentiment.”

Sentiment is the most enduring weapon anyone can have.


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