Cups of nun chai 62— 63
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, 2016 these memorialising words and images have appeared serialised here in Kashmir Reader thrice every week, except between Oct 3 and Dec 28 when the State Administration barred its publication. The series resumes and will appear on this page every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
The air was dry and a warm wind was blowing. Beth, Andrew and I had three cups of very hot nun chai. During the summer months of 2010, when the central government of India was making decisions about what ‘to do’ in Kashmir from their offices in New Delhi, the city’s temperature would have been something akin to this. Perhaps the maddening heat contributes to the political capital’s lack of judgement during such periods.
“Were these people who died in Kashmir activists?” asked Beth. The word ‘activist’ carries a specialisation that I find difficult to place in the context of Kashmir. In what is the most densely militarised place in the world, how does one delineate between an activist and a non-activist? There are no definitive lines or orderly qualifications. Here everyone becomes implicated in one way or another. A few weeks earlier, Majid Maqbool, wrote a story that described a young boy who, upon seeing troops raiding an apple orchard, had been unable to contain himself. He shouted“… in Kashmiri from a halted public bus: ‘Alai, chioet chuer!’(Hey, Apple thieves!), he mocked at the troops. The troops, unable to comprehend his shout, ignored it. They went on to bite a few more apples. They took away the rest and stored them in their vehicles.”
The youngest person to die in the violence that engulfed Kashmir during the summer of 2010 was an eight year old boy named Sameer Ahmed Rah. He was beaten to death by the Central Reserve Police Force. When they recovered his body Sameer’s small dead hand still carried the piece of fruit he had bought earlier from a street vendor. As his father laments, “He was holding a pear not a gun, not even a stone.” In a place like Kashmir the specialisation entailed in the identity of an ‘activist’ is irrelevant; the word at once encapsulates everyone and, by necessity, no one.
I tried to contextualise the ground swell in Kashmir with the country’s history. “It reminds me of Chile” Beth said, “Just before something like independence is attained violence usually reaches new heights.” She told me that as Pinochet’s dictatorship fell, a law was declared that prohibited more than three people congregating in a public place. From every direction in the city, people decided to walk in pairs towards the presidential palace as a means of voicing their opposition. People walked towards Pinochet’s palace and stood in front of it for five minutes before moving on. “It was like an early flash-mob with a deeply political foundation,” said Beth.
German filmmaker Harun Farocki made an amazing film about the 1989 Romanian revolution titled Videograms of a Revolution. The film was produced entirely from a collection of found footage that was mostly shot on hand-held cameras by people witnessing and participating in the revolution itself. As I explained Farocki’s film in detail Andrew spoke about the significance of the media—once radio, then television, and now the internet. And Beth, who was a media producer with the ABC said, “Transparency and diversity are important, but at the end of the day it’s really about story. That’s what matters most to people, information alone isn’t enough. Statistics get lost, good stories get remembered.”
—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.