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.
A few hours before meeting Antony I followed a link to a cartoon he had sent me via email. In the image a little man with a big nose sits at a small table. He is alone and sipping on a cup of tea. Drawn by Michael Leunig the accompanying text reads:
The tiny bit of GST / I pay for my cup of tea / Will go towards the bit of lead / That goes into somebody’s head / In deepest dark Afghanistan: / Perhaps a peaceful loving man /Targeted by secret sources / Murdered by the Special Forces / Dies to keep me safe and free / As I drink my cup of tea.
Dark and pertinent, the cartoon hit its target.
There is a degree of futility in these cups of nun chai. Yet at the same time, in the face of what is a tragic and absurd reality, there remains something oddly meaningful. In their quaint way these small yet gradually accumulating cups of nun chai pose an array of questions. One in particular asks: when a nation’s armed forces shoot and kill unarmed civilians in a place that is distant from where you are now what might be an appropriate response? Antony tries to write.
“You know as a journalist, my world is filled with horrible things, all the time.” Antony tasted the nun chai and leant back on the bench, “It’s nice to sit down for a moment, to slow down, here with this tea.” It is a simple proposition, no doubt. The nun chai is warm and inviting, and it slows the pace of thought. Yet the political and ethical questions that loom in this memorial are challenging and unsettling. Antony had a bruised heart. Politics, like love, can take us places we never expected and tear asunder all reason. They are age-old concerns, and discussing them over tea is an age-old practice.
I explained how Cups of nun chai grew out of my own need to say something about the injustice of what took place in 2010. While the Commonwealth Games were drawing near and the international spotlight shining on Delhi, India’s armed forces were shooting unarmed civilians on a daily basis in Indian occupied Kashmir. One morning, on an Australian news program, the famed Olympic swimmer Dawn Fraser spoke of the looming threat of terrorism and the dirtiness of the Commonwealth Games facilities in Delhi, warning against Australia’s participation. My gut wrenched. While she spoke, with an apparent air of authority and very little knowledge, about issues of cleanliness and terrorism, the Indian state’s armed forces were conducting their own terrorism in Kashmir. A mere 800 kilometres from Delhi over 100 people were shot in almost as many days and Dawn Fraser said nothing. Perhaps she needs to start drinking her tea with Michael Leunig.
—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.