The sixty-ninth cup of nun chai


Hayley asked if we could begin by looking at a map of Kashmir. We found a map online from the University of Texas whose file had been named ‘Kashmir_disputed_2003’. Google simultaneously gave us a number of ‘related searches’ that read like an awkwardly summarised geography of the region; Kashmir map India. Kashmir map political. Kashmir region map. Azad Kashmir map. Pakistan map.

We looked over the image of ‘disputed Kashmir’ and I tried to explain to Hayley the long, complicated story of how Kashmir came to be synonymous with the word “disputed”. But there was so very much to tell. My mind seemed to move faster than I was able to speak and I worried I was relaying the story in a way that sounded scattered and incomplete. I slowed down and tried to pull my words together.

Eventually we came to the Summer of 2010. On the 6th of September four people had died bringing the growing number of dead to 69; Feroz Ahmed Malik, Mudasir Ahmed Mir, Noorudin Tantary and Muhammad Ramzan Mir. It was at this same time, as I sat reading the latest news, facebook posts and emails in a cold drafty studio in Sydney, that the project Cups of nun chai came into being. Today, one and a half years later, I sat with Hayley as she held the 69th cup of nun chai in her hands.

We looked online at images of the sang-baz in Kashmir throwing stones at the Indian security forces. And we looked online at images of the Indian (in)security forces, as my friend prefers to call them, firing at the sang-baz. So many moments had been frozen in time, capturing the intensity of people’s physical anguish and holding it there, still. But my mind wandered and wanted more; what was the story that lead in and out of each of these pictures – what happened before and what came after?

There was an image of a middle-aged woman scolding a man in uniform. Her face was only inches from his. The energy that she carried – it was visible in her face, in her raised hand and in the strength of her body – was powerful and defiant in a way that only a woman, who has been pushed well beyond her limits, can be. As she stood there scolding that man in uniform, a moment forever frozen in time, she seemed to be searching for, or perhaps more directly she was trying to instil some sense of humanity or even compassion in the blank empty face of the soldier.

Stone throwing in Kashmir has many reasons for being, much of which has been explored by Kashmiri writers including Sanjay Kak, Majid Maqbool and Zahid Rafiq. But as Hayley and I sat looking at the image of this woman whose face stood only inches from that man in uniform I began to think that perhaps, like this woman, each thrown stone becomes some kind of attempt to break, or maybe just fracture, the cold uniformed inhumanity that confounds life in Kashmir. Stones are no match for bullets or tear gas – but their symbolic value is potent.

Hayley asked if stone throwing and the kind of state violence that took place in 2010 was common in Kashmir. It was the 22nd of January. On this day twenty-two years ago an estimated 100 unarmed protesters had been killed by Indian troops at the Gawkadal Bridge. This day has often been described as ‘the gateway to Kashmir’s road of massacres’. These histories are becoming longer by the day and all too familiar.

Over the last few years Hayley had been working in Cambodia. After the atrocities of Pol Pot she described it as a nation that was in a process of healing. I found it refreshing to think of this idea of collective healing – particularly in light of nation states which are all too often haunted by dark pasts that refuse to lie down gently. She said Cambodian society had a very honest relationship with their history and it was this that enabled them, in Hayley’s eyes, to start the process of healing.



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