The one-hundred and third cup of nun chai


‘Those were mad times.’ That is how Uzma described the Summer of 2010. She said it a number of times.

Uzma carried the burden of her own memories. She sought to release that burden by telling stories and she wanted to begin, today, where it all began for her.

Uzma was in second standard. She was returning home from the market after buying a doll with her father when a crackdown began not far from home. People were forced to stop where they were and line the streets. As a man, her father had to comply with the crackdown but he wanted his daughter, Uzma, to be safe. He encouraged her to ask the soldier to give her permission to walk a few metres to the safety of her own house. They were so close Uzma’s mother watched from the window of their home and pleaded with the soldier. But he refused.

Uzma remembered the soldier’s red bloodshot eyes and the black bandana that covered his head. And she remembered his jackboots. It was here, on this day, when Uzma was a 7 year old girl, that the realities of life under a military occupation began to set in.

But it was in 2010 that Uzma’s approach to writing gathered a sense of poetic urgency; that year there had been a shift. In 2010 Uzma saw the tiny body of 8 year old Sameer Ahmed Rah as it was carried by a funeral procession past her home. As she said, these were mad times. The window that she watched this from became a kind of witness to the world. But her mother hated her peering from it; there were troopers stationed right outside and it was not safe. One July morning in 2010, a stray bullet from the police and paramilitary soldiers struck, 24 year old, Fancy Jan as she fixed a curtain over her window. Fancy’s last words had echoed across Kashmir at that time, Mummy, mae-ae aav heartas fire (Mummy, a bullet has pierced my heart).

In the madness of 2010 Uzma had begun to collect objects. And these objects fed her memories. She had visited Fancy’s home, and Uzma now treasured a small passport sized photograph of Fancy. Uzma handed me a stone that had been thrown on the streets outside her home. She collected this too. I held it. Felt its weight, and its shape. It was often the accumulation and collection of obscure things that helped one make sense of the world in times that were mad; the slow, growing nature of Cups of nun chai was not much different.

Uzma had visited the home of Adil Ramzan, a 12 year old boy from Palhalan, who also lost his life in 2010. His family had not been allowed to remove his injured body from the street. Uzma told me that hours later when they eventually reached the hospital the army also arrived, and it was here in the hospital that they eventually shot 12 year old Adil Ramzan to death. These were mad times. At his home Adil’s mother had shown Uzma his cupboard, left almost untouched as if they were waiting for his return. Uzma looked through one of his school books. In it he had written, as any 12 year old school boy might, about the democratic ideals of liberty, sovereignty and justice. Adil met with death at the hands of the world’s largest democracy. These are mad times, indeed.

But there was something more. There was something in the way that experiences and the weight of their memories, however horribly unimaginable can become affirmative. Uzma once met a lady, who had lost her husband and six sons in the conflict, yet still she dreamt of Azadi (freedom). There was a strength here that made us both smile. Talking through these things also enabled us to smile – in the way that speaking together felt like it had the capacity to mark and to somehow make sense of this madness.

Uzma recalled how her mother once forced the soldiers to remove their boots before she would allow them to search the prayer room during a raid at their home. At times like these Uzma feared for her mother, but at the same time she sat in awe of the gentle yet sure defiance that persisted within her mother’s soul.



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