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.
I appreciate this endeavour that is an investment in the memory of those who lost their lives during the mass uprising of 2010 in Kashmir.
Ahmad sent me this as an email from his laptop, as we sat together in person drinking nun chai on a hot Summer day in Srinagar. I didn’t see it until I was home.
Ahmad has the most distinct giggle I have ever heard. And he seems to be busy¬¬¬¬¬, even if only in thought, all the time. “When something happens in Kashmir,” he explained with pride, “there is always a response from Sopore. That’s my home.” He giggled again.
“What do people in Australia know about Kashmir? You see, we watch Symonds and Ponting playing cricket, and every time they play India we want Australia to win!” He said with a smile, “Do you think they know Kashmir is cheering them on? Do you think they read the newspapers, and know what is happening to us here?”
The Muzzafarabad Chalo of 2008 and the Ragda Ragda of 2010, had been formative events for people of Ahmad’s generation who were under 30 years of age. They marked a shift in the movement. I asked if he protested. “Sometimes, when your emotions become so intense it’s like you are actually pulled from your home onto the streets. And your hand moves before you and picks up a stone. Sometimes there was no choice,” he said gently. Ahmad told me about the use of pellet guns, which dispersed thousands of tiny pin size pellets deep into the body. Despite popular perception, pellet guns had the capacity to be more fatal than a bullet.
Ahmad sometimes channelled his emotions into words, and he started to read me a story published on Eid in a local newspaper:
The sunlit streets are devoid of any life and the pungent smell of death and destruction is nauseating. The stains of blood are staring at our faces demanding justice. The innocent dead are a history now, reminding the conscious living souls of their sacrifices. Hush has fallen all over the valley with only ambulances wailing round the clock.
“There are endless seminars, conferences, enquiries and commissions that try to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. But they never do. We are still here — alienated and angry.”
As we left, Ahmad and I stepped over a role of barbed concertina wire that enclosed the park we sat in. He smiled at me, and with that characteristic giggle said, “I don’t see this as a bad thing. The barbed wire that alters the direction of our paths, the army convoys that leave us waiting endlessly in the traffic—these things polish our memories. And it is our memories that are our strength in Kashmir.” It was this ability to turn what was dark into something light that enabled Ahmad’s laugh to bloom with such persistent and light-hearted defiance in the midst of conflict.