The fourth, fifth and sixth cups of nun chai

10.10.2010

My brother Ryan was discussing how the Indian Commonwealth Games Organising Committee paid $90 for a roll of toilet paper. He was astounded at the price of toilet paper in India. I explained that toilet paper didn’t actually cost $90, but that someone had claimed that price on paper while pocketing the rest.

My father, my two younger brothers and I spoke about the media coverage that had been flooding Australian television in the lead up to Delhi’s Commonwealth Games. Prime time television was filled with “experts” worrying about the safety of foreign athletes, the cleanliness of the accommodation and the price of toilet paper. But there was very little said about the injuries and deaths of the Commonwealth Games construction workers, about the hundreds of thousands of people whose homes were destroyed in order to make way for that construction and nearly no mention of the fact that in Kashmir Indian armed forces had killed over one hundred unarmed people, people it claimed as its own citizens, in only one hundred days. Things sort of clicked at that moment in my brother’s eyes. The toilet paper that cost $90 took a back seat. We held our cups of nun chai and I explained how they were a memorial for the lives that had been lost in Kashmir. Many of whom were young boys, of my brother’s age, in their mid to late teens.

We drank the nun chai and no one said a word. The sudden, uneasy silence yearned loudly for distraction. The story we were beginning to touch was not easy and it wasn’t meant to be. It was distant. It was irreconcilable with what my brothers and my father were comfortable and familiar with. They did not know how to deal with the everyday-ness of death, of politicised deaths, of their acknowledgement of these deaths. And so the conversation quickly moved towards the flavour of nun chai. “This tea is like sea water.” Having spent their lives by the ocean they were adamant it must be dehydrating. But people in Kashmir often say that nun chai is hydrating. Again – the differences between two worlds uncomfortably collided.

A milky skin formed on the surface of the hot tea. My youngest brother is ten and he has a beautiful big genuine smile. He was proud to have finished his nun chai first and suddenly declared, ‘We need war to prepare for peace’. He was repeating a phrase he had overheard somewhere. He knew there was a paradox in what he said, but his words were haunting because they sidestepped the gravity of the situation. Like so much in contemporary society his words resonated like a deflated copy of something real. I was reminded of President Obama’s justification of the war in Afghanistan as he received the Nobel Peace Prize. The world moves in strange directions. And my father, forever balancing the characteristics of an eternal optimist and an eternal escapist, asked, ‘So if this is a critique of the Indian government in Kashmir, tell me something good that they are also doing.’

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