The seventieth cup of nun chai


Two different names had been written on a small piece of paper. There were two dates, two ages, two places and two causes of death.

September 9. Manzoor Ahmed, 38. Bandipora. Shepherd shot dead by Rashtriya Rifles on his way home from the pastures.

September 6. Noorudin Tantray, 26. Tantrypora Pattan. Fired on by police and succumbed to his injuries on the way to hospital.

These details had come from two lists that documented those who died in Kashmir during the Summer of 2010. But the lists, while often similar were sometimes conflicting. Both these people could have been the 70th person to die in the unrest, though it was difficult to ascertain which list was more true or correct. But here, in a situation like this, things like truth and correctness, the difference between right and wrong, are all at once so basically urgent and yet so absolutely irrelevant.

A few days ago Meg asked me if each cup of nun chai was assigned to a particular person? Today, I had begun with these differing details written on a small piece of paper in an attempt to answer that question. Accompanied by two cups of nun chai Meg and I sat and looked at those two names. We thought about what they meant. And we thought about the many other names that would never fit on that small piece of paper.

Meg asked if all these people had been killed in passing? Were they all innocent bystanders, minding their own business on their way from one place to another and simply caught in the cross fire? We began to talk in more detail about the fake encounters, the demonstrations, the stone throwing and the escalating violence. Bystanders were shot. Stone throwers were shot. But at the end of the day neither bystander nor stone thrower deserved to be shot, and the line between the two was never clear.

I remembered one afternoon in Barramulla. We came into town on the bus and arrived to see the shops rolling down their shutters. People were moving away in different directions. The streets were closing. I looked down to my left. For a hundred metres or so, the street was empty of people yet full with a scattered mass of stones that seemed to have fallen from the sky like rain. Suddenly, marking the end of that stretch of stoned emptiness, there were dense thick rows of men in uniform wearing helmets and holding their shields.

There were so many stones on the road that day, that I couldn’t help wondering where they had come from? How did they get there in such great numbers? Are stones now hoarded underneath pherans? What would it mean to be caught with a stone in your hand? How would a pebble be dealt with by the ever-anxious-and-heavily-armed-forces?

That view down the street made me wonder about the economy of stones in Kashmir. Some must shine more than others; their shape and weight more suited to a particular use, a particular feeling, even a particular story.

Meg said it reminded her of what her Irish friends had recently told her about their struggle against the British; the necessity for secrecy, the development of informal networks and this sense of dedication. Hope. Need.

We spoke for the next two hours. Kashmir. Ireland. Kashmir. Australia. Kashmir. India. Kashmir. We explored ideas but found no answers. The only way to start was to start by trying to understand. By starting to listen.


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