Ahmad has one of the most characteristic giggles I have ever heard. We sat together under the cool shade of a Chinar tree on a hot Summer day in Kashmir. As I spoke about Cups of nun chai Ahmad, busy as ever, looked at the website on his laptop and wrote an email accepting the invitation which kindly read:
I appreciate this endeavour that is an investment in the memory of those who lost their lives during the mass uprising of 2010 in Kashmir.
Ahmad wanted to know what people in Australia knew of Kashmir. What did they feel after sharing a cup of nun chai and hearing its story? He was really interested and I tried to explain that it was a difficult thing to generalise because each nun chai had itself been so unique. Whenever Ahmad watched the Australian cricket team playing against India or Pakistan, he often wondered what those players, what people like Simons or Ponting, knew of the people and places who watched their matches from a far. Did the Australian team know there were countless viewers in Kashmir rooting for their win over India because of the Indian state’s occupation of Kashmir? He wondered if they read newspapers or followed the international news. In 2010 would they have played harder against India if they knew their government had just killed more than 100 unarmed people it claimed as its own citizens in Kashmir?
Ahmad was from Sopore, a town in North Kashmir renowned for its anti-India sentiments and militancy. Growing up, he had seen a lot. He explained with pride that when something happened in Kashmir there was always a response from Sopore. The Muzzafarabad Chalo of 2008 and the Ragda Ragda of 2010, had been formative events for people of Ahmad’s generation who were under 30 years of age, marking a significant shift in the nature of the movement.
I asked Ahmad if he protested. He explained gently that sometimes when one’s emotions become so intense you’re actually pulled from your home onto the streets, and your hand moves before you and picks up a stone. When the situation became so urgent, there were times when one didn’t have a choice. Ahmad explained the horrifying nature of pellet guns, which dispersed thousands of tiny pin size injuries deep into the body. Despite popular perception, pellet wounds had the capacity to be more fatal than a bullet. This moment when one’s emotions were pushed across a threshold was central to so many peoples’ experiences in Kashmir – moments when the occupation simply became too much.
Ahmad read a story he had published on Eid in a local newspaper towards the end of the uprising in 2010. This too was full of the same emotions that pulled him onto the streets, but here these emotions had been channelled into words:
The sunlit streets are devoid of any life and the pungent smell of death and destruction is nauseating. The stains of blood are staring at our faces demanding justice. The innocent dead are a history now, reminding the conscious living souls of their sacrifices. Hush has fallen all over the valley with only ambulances wailing round the clock.
Ahmad spoke of the endless seminars, conferences, enquiries and commissions that sought to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. The fact that they never achieved any significant outcome only worked to alienate society further. But as Ahmad explained, contrary to Marxist philosophy, here in Kashmir such feelings of alienation simply added a greater sense of urgency to the struggle.
As we got up to leave, Ahmad and I stepped over a role of barbed concertina wire that enclosed the park we sat in. He looked at me, smiled and with his characteristic laugh, said ‘I don’t see this as a bad thing. The barbed wire that alters the direction of our paths, the army convoys that leave us waiting endlessly in the traffic – these things polish our memories. And it is our memories that are our strength.’ It was this ability to turn what was dark into something light that enabled Ahmad’s laugh to bloom with such persistent and lighthearted defiance in the midst of conflict.