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.
“It feels so strange to swallow salty liquid,” Rosie said after tasting the nun chai. Perhaps it had something to do with growing up by the ocean. “This tea makes me think of being stranded on a deserted island—surrounded by sand, palm trees and boundless, undrinkable salty seawater.” On the coast of Australia we’re told, again and again, not to drink seawater because salt dehydrates the body. But in Kashmir nun chai (literally meaning salt-tea), is the most common drink. It carries an almost medicinal air. I have been told in Kashmir how nun chai can rehydrate the body, ease an upset stomach, soothe a sore throat and clear a headache.
It was something that Rosie said last year, about wanting to just sit down and speak to me about what was happening in Kashmir, that became one among a number of small things that lead to Cups of nun chai. At the time it was an offhand comment, but I’m learning it is the insignificant things that ultimately shape the big things of life.
In an art project about love artist Willoh S. Weiland wrote of how, Time’s greatest betrayal is the disproportion of the instant to its impact. This phrase came to mind as Rosie and I spoke about Kashmir. In March 2011 a fact finding report was released about the summer of 2010. Aptly titled Four Months the Kashmir Valley Will Never Forget, the report illustrates the disproportion of the instant to its impact as it unravelled the chain of events leading up to, during and after the summer of months of 2010.
“There’s this phrase from a book I read. I can’t explain how it relates exactly, but I’m sure it does. The book says: In dreams begins responsibility.” It is a phrase that somehow wakes you. Rosie continued, “These cups of nun chai seem insignificant. They are like small dreams. But it’s small dreams like this that demand a certain responsibility.”
Dreams are not always lofty. When you want to make a dream real, it suddenly gathers weight. A great responsibility lies in the dream of azadi (freedom). People in Kashmir know this. But it is common to hear that Kashmir is ‘not ready’, or ‘not capable’, or ‘not unified’ enough, to live with freedom and political independence. We hear that the leadership is too dispersed. That financially it is not viable. That the population is too ‘backward’ for self-determination. But once upon a time the British said these things about India. And the Indonesians about East Timor too. In Australia, our governments make similar claims all the time about the viability of Aboriginal people to make decisions for and control what happens on their own land and in their own communities. It is the rhetoric of the coloniser. The colonised know more than anyone the great responsibility that lies at the heart azadi. Their dreams defy such rhetoric.