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.
“The flavour is comforting.” My grandfather, Pappy, was surprised to find the nun chai pleasant. “I can see how it could be quite a habit for those who drink it regularly.”
It was Remembrance Day, a day of memorial observed in Commonwealth countries to remember the sacrifices made by the armed forces and civilians in times of war, specifically since the end of the First World War. Pappy served in Papua New Guinea during the Second World War, but he didn’t mention that it was Remembrance Day until well after we finished the nun chai. He rarely speaks of the war, though he reads about it endlessly. Trauma often builds silence. However, he did ask me a question. “Is this nun chai for any one person in particular?”
This is the twelfth cup of nun chai. On June 29 Imtiyaz Ahmed Ittoo, a 17 year old from Watergam Dailgam Islamabad, was the twelfth person to be killed that year. Indian soldiers and police chased boys pelting stones for more than a kilometre before shooting three boys inside a courtyard of a home they tried to hide in.
Pappy asked, “Is it an armed struggle? Where do the weapons come from?” I thought of a woman I once saw high above the Jhelum River. She sat by the side of the road with a pile of sacks and a young son. Something made me look at her twice. I was soon told that some years back the Indian military sent her husband to Pakistan to collect weapons. He never returned. But while he never came home the authorities reiterated that there was no proof he actually went to Pakistan on their orders and further there was no proof he was actually dead. The woman, high above the Jhelum, looked as though she were waiting. She was living the life of a half-widow, a life shaped by the act of waiting. She was balancing, held somewhere between a bureaucracy that refused to know her and a husband who had not come home. The person who told me this story said the military and the militancy in Kashmir were often as dependent on each other as the individual links of a larger chain.
I tried to describe to Pappy how things seemed different in 2010. Guns had been dropped and in their place people held onto slogans and stones. But the army continued to respond to these stones and slogans with guns and tear gas and torture. Pappy asked “Is it an independent Kashmir that people want? Do you think this is viable?” Kashmir has been waiting 63 years for the right to self-determination as Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, initially promised. If one were to look over the events of recent history and to experience today’s military occupation it would be difficult to imagine anyone wanting anything but an independent Kashmir. And so, ironically because of the military occupation azadi (freedom) has to be viable.
“What Kashmir really needs is a movement from within India that supports its freedom. It needs allies there.” Pappy spoke strategically, practically and with the wisdom of age. I told him about the charges of sedition against author Arundhati Roy for remarking that Kashmir has never been an integral part of India. Pappy said, with a quiet though fierce sense of dismay, “The government is losing sight of what it means to be free.”
—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.