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.
Ana’s eyes were large and sensitive. I told her about Kashmir’s summer of 2010 and the 70,000 who had died in the previous two decades and she gasped, “Isn’t that akin to genocide?” Ana wanted to know more. She asked about Tufail. She asked about the protests. And she asked about the violence. She was quite taken by the fact that she knew close to nothing about Kashmir.
However, not long ago Ana met an accountant in Sydney who had migrated from Pakistan. “He told me a lot about the history of his home, and also Kashmir.” I probed Ana further about what he specifically said about Kashmir, “A river. He said something about a big river and the politics that surrounded it. He also spoke about some vote that was supposed to resolve things. He said I would probably hear a different perspective on all this if I spoke to an Indian.” The accountant from Pakistan must have referred to the River Jhelum and Kashmir’s long awaited referendum. “When I read about your art work, I remembered what the accountant told me. That’s why I contacted you.”
Ana and I spoke about the roles that India and Pakistan play in the dual occupation of the region, the process of Partition and Kashmir’s right to self-determination. She was surprised to hear that China was also in the mix.
“I spent some time in Cambodia, and the deep smiles people carry despite their experiences of genocide really affected me.” Ana went on, “I have a friend there. His family had to hide their education from the Khmer Rouge in order to stay alive. Under the Khmer rule in the late 1970s his family worked in the fields. Two million people were killed in four years. Today he has dedicated his life to setting up schools in Cambodia. You can’t imagine the importance Cambodian’s now place on education.” She spoke passionately about the power of education as people worked to rebuild a broken Cambodia. I kept thinking that if this is possible after such genocide then Kashmir was possible too.
This was the 36th cup of nun chai and Ana was pleased to know the project was progressing. In one sense, I was pleased too. But I also find the swiftness of death haunting. People die at a rate faster than I am able to have cups of tea. This seems absurd, but from Kashmir to Cambodia and elsewhere the world over, it is so very true.
—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.