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.
In comparison to the intense sweetness of the chai that is popular across much of South Asia, Chris found the distinct saltiness of nun chai surprising. “I’ve more or less grown up on Indian food. My father was an Anglo-Indian. He migrated to Australia after the British left.” Chris had a curry simmering away in the kitchen as we spoke, “But I only know of Kashmiri food through books. I know a little of its politics, as much as anyone I guess.”
Chris owns a corner store in a small beachside village on the NSW north coast. He works with food and wanted to know how nun chai was prepared. When I spoke of the use of bicarb soda and its ability to ease an upset stomach, Chris likened it to the way Australians often use lemonade in the same way.
“Most of the world is shaped by political greed. I like it when art starts to contest this. But I just don’t get it.” Chris looked puzzled, “I get my news from the SBS and ABC. But I’m still perplexed. These are professional journalists, with good university degrees and they just gloss over the real stories. How does it happen? With all that education? There must be some unwritten code that tells journalists when to withdraw, and how to tell half the truth.”
When I began this work I was in the process of writing a more conventional piece on Kashmir. But as I was reading article after article, written by people who knew a lot more than me, and watching from a distance the death toll rise and rise, I started to question what my writing would ultimately contribute. And then one day, it hit me. The death toll had reached 69, and now there were 69 cups of nun chai that would simply no longer . Chris and I looked down at the cups of tea in front of us. He said that there was a lot of potential for art, music and literature to go where more conventional reportage and thinking stopped.
After leaving India Chris’ Anglo-Indian father was faced with a three-pronged choice: migrate to America, South Africa or Australia. “I’m far from patriotic,” Chris said, “but I’m happy we ended up here.” Writer Arundhati Roy has faced personal attacks and legal measures for what some in India perceive to be unpatriotic remarks about Kashmir. She has been plagued by accusations of being anti-national, charges of sedition, and later an FIR that accused Roy of nothing less than “waging war against the (Indian) state”. Popular debate in India has become menacing. However, Roy responded to these charges in the most befitting way. She simply published an article that presented a collection of statements made by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that highlighted, from within the very foundations of Indian democracy, Kashmir’s right to self-determination. As Roy suggested, “Perhaps they should posthumously file a charge against Jawaharlal Nehru too.”
—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.