This participatory memorial, by artist Alana Hunt, emerged in response to Kashmir’s Summer of 2010. In the face of the violence, the growing number of dead and the lack of serious media coverage, Hunt evolved ways to speak, to connect and to write in a form that would reach places where the news headlines do not. By July 2012 she had invited 118 people to share a cup of nun chai with her as a simple act that acknowledged this loss of life. Like an ever-growing memory the endeavour unfolded over two years of tea and conversation – across Australia, Europe, parts of South Asia and Kashmir – into a gentle yet challenging refusal to allow that loss of life to simply pass.
Since June 11, these memorialising words and images have appeared here in Kashmir Reader serialised every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Kay and I sat on a yacht. It was suspended on a hardstand, out of the water. “It is terribly sad.” The heaviness of Kay’s body told me she was really grappling with the situation in Kashmir I had just described. When she said it was sad, she meant it. Her words were simple yet strong. “Oh!” Kay was surprised at the saltiness of the nun chai, “It’s okay.” She assured herself, “I like salty things. I’ll probably get used to it quickly.” Nun chai was in our mouths and Kashmir at the fore of our minds.
“Your mother told me about another project of yours, another one you produced in Kashmir about text messaging.” Kay asked me to tell her about it. In late 2009 the Indian government banned all pre-paid phone connections in Kashmir citing reasons of ‘security’. Virtually overnight, more than 400,000 mobile phone users—people conducting business, college students, families, distanced lovers—were left without telecommunication. The event passed with little more than a murmur from the media in South Asia. I knew about the violence in Kashmir, but the sudden banning of all pre-paid phone connections illuminated the absurdity of the occupation and the extent of its impact upon people’s everyday lives. I made 1000 ‘paper txt msgs’—specially designed 4×4 inch pieces of card—and distributed them around Kashmir as a humorous, tongue-in-cheek ‘replacement’ for the phone services that had been taken away. The paper txt msgs were a playful and deeply political way for people to vent their frustrations.
“I think, at around the same time in Australia there was an increase in ID requirements for mobile phones too,” Kay recalled.
“In India you can get a sim card with standard photo ID,” I explained, “But in Kashmir you need police verification. The process is much stricter and far less accessible.” Mobiles phones have an added importance in a place like Kashmir, they are a security blanket for the common person who is haunted by the uncertainty of returning home for the day. While pre-paid connections were eventually restored in February 2010, it is routine for the government in Kashmir to cut phone connections, block text messaging services and disrupt the internet. After that summer, it is now only government phone connections that operate in Kashmir and SMS services have ceased completely.
“These are all probably monitored closely anyway. How are people communicating in Kashmir now?” Kay asked. There was an informal network of borrowed phones between family and friends. Facebook and the emergence of spaces online are also strong. “Oh, I’m surprised that hasn’t been shut down as well,” Kay commented. I often hear rumours of hacking and government spies taking on fake identities online. They must be watching because people are being arrested for what they write online. The government’s fear of sentiment is astounding.
Kay raised her cup in memory of the summer of 2010, and finished her nun chai.
—Alana Hunt makes art, writes and occasionally curates. Her work is informed, in quiet yet consistent ways, by the dual (post)colonial worlds of South Asia and the remote East Kimberley region of Western Australia.