Manzoor is the first Kashmiri to take part in Cups of nun chai. Manzoor and his Australian wife Neelofar sell Kashmir’s finest handcrafted products from a gorgeous little shop in the north of Sydney. My grandparents met them by chance one day and soon introduced us. Only a week later I was walking into their shop for our second meeting over a cup of nun chai. Theirs was among the final cups of nun chai to take place on Australian soil. Their participation formed a bridge between Australia and Kashmir.
When I arrived Neelofar was reading some of my work online and she mentioned the nun chai I shared with Rusty, a senior Gija artist from the north-west of Australia. Manzoor was busy preparing the nun chai in the back of their shop while Neelofar and I began to speak about Kashmir and Australia. Rusty’s story was the starting point that helped link these two seemingly disparate places. As it turned out both Australia and Kashmir exist in states of occupation that are normalised in the everyday. Much of their historical experiences remain unwritten. And violence is embedded in deep memory.
Neelofar and Manzoor had been in Kashmir during the Summer of 2010. Tears began to well up in Neelofar’s eyes as she spoke in detail about the four and a half months of curfew. They had much to say. They worried for their kids schooling. There were food shortages. They said the idea of azadi only got stronger as the months passed. Neelofar said the noise was continuous. And Manzoor was shocked at how long it took the media to actually note what was really taking place. But it was not the curfew they returned to, nor the dead, but the thousands of injured people, who still carried their injuries with them today.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it before. And I grew up in the nineties,” Manzoor said. Those four and a half months of curfew had clearly shaken them both. It had etched itself into their beautiful eyes. It politicised them in unavoidable ways.
“I became tougher.” Neelofar added.
“I’ve got hope. But I worry.” Manzoor continued, “My father has been watching Kashmir since 1947. Days become years and years become decades. He doesn’t have hope any more. I don’t want to become like that.”
Neelofar and Manzoor could have left Kashmir during those summer months and returned to Australia, but they did not. They said the idea of leaving family behind was more difficult to face than the occupation itself. “My father always says that if you run from war you become a target. If you want to survive you have to wait it out. And that is what we did in 2010,” said Manzoor.
When Neelofar first came to Kashmir from Australia she wanted to run, especially during the Kargil War in 1999,“But now, I’ve learnt to wait,” she added.
Their well-kept shop surrounded us with the most exquisite shawls, papier mache, and sozni embroidery that Kashmir has on offer. But we spoke about many of the most horrific experiences that Kashmir has undergone. As our conversation unfolded middle-aged women from northern Sydney wandered in and out of the shop admiring the products on display. They must have overheard our conversation in fragments, and I wondered how they pieced together the beauty and the trauma of it all. For Neelofar, Manzoor and I, none of this felt out of place. In this little shop in Sydney, just as in Kashmir itself, beauty and pain are never in isolation from one another. “Sometimes I think the mountains in Kashmir are crying from the violence,” whispered Neelofar. In Australia too, people often say the country has become sad, because colonisation has torn many of the original languages from its being. Places, like people, can also hurt.