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.
Glen didn’t mind the flavour of nun chai at all. He asked about its pink colour, the salty flavour and the reasons behind the use of bi-carb soda. We spoke about Kashmir. A seemingly endless torrent of information about the 2010 summer fell from my mouth. My hands drew the shape of Kashmir, mapping it on the table that sat between us. Glen listened. His eyes were sensitive. He asked me what Kashmir wanted, and we came to the multifaceted idea of Azadi.
There is deep scepticism in Kashmir towards the idea of life under another nation’s rule. Many people in Kashmir say again and again that the problems didn’t begin in 1947 but back in 1846 when the British sold Kashmir to the Dogras through the Treaty of Amritsar. Historically, Kashmiri people have been described by outsiders as a ‘docile’ lot. But things are changing. My friend Fayaz recently noted on Facebook that thanks to the excessive militarisation of the region Kashmiris now fall under the broader category of ‘resistant’ and ‘resilient’.
“This is a nice way to respond,” said Glen, “It’s an engagement that feels poetic and at the same time somehow relevant.” I received a lot of positive feedback when Cups of nun chai was developing, but two close friends in New Delhi were critical of the idea at its outset. For them the act of having a cup of tea in Australia could belittle the struggles of daily life under the military occupation in Kashmir. After all, how can a cup of tea replace a human life? It can’t by any stretch of the imagination. “I understand the hesitation your friends in Delhi had, but there is no way to evade these risks unless we choose to do nothing.” Besides raising awareness or producing a statement of some sort Glen concluded “This project is an honourable way to take note of a life that isn’t here anymore. We have a responsibility to respond to oppression – whether it be political, religious or sexual. But I’m not convinced that protest works like it used to – at least not in Australia.”
Places like Town Hall in Sydney and Jantar Mantar in New Delhi are zones of public space that the state officially cordons off to legitimise and legalise dissent. In spaces like this protest often becomes a scripted routine – like a television commercial you can mute. But there will always be moments and slippages that can render something suddenly relevant; instances where the mute buttons won’t work. One of these slippages happened in August 2010. For one rare evening a peaceful protest gathered at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi voicing opposition to the killing and violence in Kashmir. In the heart of India’s capital this protest broke New Delhi’s silence over Kashmir as slogans of Azadi resonated loud and full on the city’s streets.
—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.