The thirty-ninth cup of nun chai

11.02.11

Lucas and I were in the Chinese Gardens – a kind of artificial pocket of green plants, big stones, moving water and calm nestled in the heart of the city. We were chatting. I poured the nun chai. Salt tea. Sal-ty. There was a small hill with pine trees and green grass. It reminded me of Kashmir but in a miniature version; like a bonsai mountain from Kashmir in the heart of Sydney. It was just behind Lucas, so from my perspective the tree framed our conversation. In my mind two competing narratives were fighting for space on this miniature mountain; one in civilian clothes the other in a military uniform.

Because Kashmir green is just so different to army green.

At only eight years of age Sameer Ahmed Rah was the thirty-ninth person to die in Kashmir during the summer of 2010. Eight years old is so unimaginably young. As I spoke, Lucas pulled a red notebook from his bag and asked me to sketch a map of Kashmir for him. First I drew a line marking the Himalayan belt. Below I drew the triangular shape of India, which extended right into South Asia and left into Pakistan. On the left side of the line that marked the Himalayas, where India, Pakistan and China all more or less meet, I began to sketch in the shape of Kashmir – or rather the shape that Kashmir was prior to the Partition of South Asia in 1947. I marked in the different regions that make up Kashmir, and then I drew a series of lines that illustrated the current occupation of Kashmir by India, Pakistan and China. As I put marks on the paper, we spoke about Kashmir’s history and how the contemporary situation arose.

He thought it might be a silly question, but Lucas asked if Cashmere wool was actually from Kashmir. The words of Agha Shahid Ali came to mind: Let me cry out in that void, say it as I can. I write on that void: Kashmir, Kaschmir, Cashmere, Qashmir, Cashmir, Cashmire, Kashmere, Cachemire, Cushmeer, Cachmiere, Casmir. Or Cauchemar in a sea of stories? Or: Kacmir, Kaschemir, Kasmere, Kachmire, Kasmir. Kerseymere?

Lucas and I spoke a lot about Kashmir for a long time; he was taking the time to understand. I told him about some of my own experiences in the valley, and he told me about friends of his who had visited places in South Asia namely across India and Bhutan. Lucas had completed his PhD on “blogging as art”; he told me about his work, the blogs he had developed and how blogging itself can have a kind of snowball affect particularly for process and participatory-based art. Blogging about a particular experience has the capacity to shape consequent experiences – as people read, engage and decide to take part in the work itself. I could relate what Lucas was saying to how things were unfolding with this work precisely because of its online presence.

There is a sort of upsurge, a bubbling, a flow of cultural production that is emerging in Kashmir; from the rap music of MC Kash to Mirza Waheed’s new novel The Collaborator. Through the internet, social media and blogging have come to play an increasingly important role. In a 2003 preface to a collection of writing from the mid-1980’s, writer and anarchist Hakim Bey dismissed his initial belief that the internet offered a kind of “pirate utopia”, arguing that instead it had become a “perfect mirror of global capital”. Last Summer the Indian government actually arrested facebook users in Kashmir for what the state claimed were “anti-national” activities. However it is precisely because of the internet that news of their arrest was able to spread like wildfire. The online community in Kashmir watched the January 25th movement in Egypt closely; supporting, comparing, learning. It is impossible to imagine such a movement without the global attention it was able to generate through online media and social networks. While it might not exactly be utopic, in the sense that Bey had envisioned, the internet is changing how things work.

As I explained to Lucas how worrying it was that people could actually be killed by the Indian state in Kashmir faster than I was able to have cups of tea with people in Sydney he said the situation was akin to Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22. A day or so later I managed to pick up a copy of Heller’s novel at a second hand book market. I will read the book soon, but the commentary on the back cover seemed pertinent to Kashmir: at the heart of Catch 22 is a savage indictment of twentieth century madness, and a desire of the ordinary man to survive it.

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