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 Administration barred its publication. The series resumes and will appear on this page every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“Those were mad times.” Uzma described the summer of 2010, “They were really mad times.” Memories had become a burden that she carried. Uzma tried to release that burden by telling stories and she wanted to begin, today, where it all began for her.
“I was in second class. I was walking home from the market with my Father. He had just bought me a doll. But a crackdown had begun not far from home.” Everyone was forced to stop where they were and line the streets. Uzma’s father had to comply but he wanted his 7-year-old daughter to be safe. “He urged me to ask the soldier if I could walk just a few metres to our home. My Mum was watching from the window, and pleaded with the soldier too. But he refused.” Uzma remembered the soldier’s bloodshot eyes and the black bandana that covered his head, “I also remember his jackboots.” Uzma’s childhood was shaped by incidents like this, but she said this one in particularly had a particular vibrancy. “In a way, this memory became my way of understanding the occupation in the simplest of ideas: when your own home remains out of bounds.”
But it was in 2010 that Uzma’s approach to writing gathered a sense of poetic urgency. Something changed for Uzma that year. In 2010 she saw the tiny body of 8-year-old Sameer Ahmed Rah as it was carried by a funeral procession past her home. “These were mad times. That window became my means of witnessing the world. But my mother hated me peering from it; there were troopers stationed right outside, and it wasn’t safe.” One July morning in 2010, soldiers shot dead 24-year-old Fancy Jan as she tried to fix a curtain over her window. Fancy’s last words had echoed across Kashmir at that time, Mummy, mae-aeaav heartas fire (Mummy, a fire has pierced my heart).
In 2010 Uzma had begun to collect objects. And these objects fuelled her memories. She had visited Fancy’s home, and now held a treasured very small passport-sized photograph of Fancy. Uzma collected a stone that had been thrown on the streets outside her home. I held it. Felt its weight and shape. For Uzma it was the accumulation and collection of these otherwise obscure objects that helped her make sense of this mad world.
Uzma had visited the home of Adil Ramzan, a 12-year-old boy from Palhalan, who also lost his life in 2010. “His family had not been allowed to remove his injured body from the street for hours. When they eventually reached hospital,” Uzma said, “the army did too.” The army killed Adil as he lay injured in a hospital bed. “At home Adil’s mother showed me his cupboard. It was almost untouched, as if they were waiting for him to return. His mother even invited me to look through his schoolbooks. On one page he had written, as any 12 year old might, about the democratic ideals of liberty, sovereignty, and justice.” Yet, Adil met his death at the hands of the world’s largest democracy. These are mad times.
Despite the burden, Uzma also found something affirmative in memory. “I once met a woman who had lost six sons and her husband in the conflict, and she still, stoically expressed her belief in the fight for azadi (freedom).” There was a deep strength here that made us both smile. “I also remember how my mother once forced the soldiers to remove their boots before she would allow them to search our prayer room during a raid.” At times like these Uzma feared for her mother, “But at the same time I was in awe of her gentle yet sure defiance.” This defiance persists in Uzma’s soul too.