Cups of nun chai — 26

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.

Ryan had been living in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the last four years. He taught English and was completing a Masters in applied linguistics, which looked at the recent emergence of Emirati identity. Immediately Ryan began speaking about what national identities mean. “It’s ok to try and build a sense of national identity – so long as that process is transparent. You can’t build a nation out of a past that never existed. That’s when you get into trouble.” Ryan spoke about the rapid change that was moving through the UAE and the different ways people negotiated with modernity. “A young Emirati man once explained, that because of the hardships his ancestors endured, today Emirati people deserve the abundance of wealth that has befallen them. He saw his wealth as a basic right.”
I was more sceptical of the whole process of nation making. Things that exist outside and in spite of national identities interest me more. Kashmir is a nation in the process of becoming – it isn’t formed yet. Its political structures are not set. Its national histories are deeply contested. And this loads Kashmir with a great potential. Despite the violence and trauma you can feel Kashmir’s hopes and dreams pulsating.
Ryan had gentle eyes and we spoke for a long time. Words like house raids, identity cards, mass-arrests, fake encounters, stones, tear gas and guns, rape, torture and death were raw and for Ryan, difficult to comprehend.
“What about India’s perception of Kashmir? What do they see? You know my wife loves Bollywood, her favourite film is Dil Se.” Dil Se (From the heart) is a typically tragic Bollywood love story set against a backdrop of insurgency in Kashmir and the North East. The film is centred around one man’s love for a mysterious woman who turns out to be a Kunan Poshpora rape victim (played by a Nepali actor), out to take revenge by suicide-bombing the president of India. While the film became known as part of director Mani Ratnam’s trilogy of terror films, that apparently tackled ‘difficult’ themes in a commercial context, Dil Se ultimately maintains Bollywood’s gross indifference to anything other than the Hindi-Hindu culture of Indian nationalism. Shah Rukh Khan’s character and the narrative in general, embody the exoticised gaze of the occupier.
Having lived in Australia, the UAE and Indonesia Ryan had encountered many different forms of Islamic culture and he wanted to know about Islam in Kashmir. “When I first saw your cups of nun chai, it made me think of the significance of the cup in Sufism. Did you have this in mind?” Ryan continued, “You see, in Sufism the human body is often thought of as a cup that is to be emptied of the self and filled with love, with God. In a way, that is what you’re doing with these cups of 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.

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