It was dusk when I sat with on the deck outside with Julie and Laurent and we spoke for a long time, until the night had become dark.
Julie and Laurent were from France. Though they had recently visited Nepal, where they met many Tibetan people in exile. They described in detail how Tibetan women in Nepal beat the butter into their salty tea with a long wooden cylinder. They moved their arms to show me the rhythm and then they stopped moving and asked about Kashmir. Tibetan experiences of occupation, exile and a fondness for salty tea were not dissimilar to Kashmir’s.
Julie carried a book with her about Buddhism in the Himalayas titled Close to Heaven. There was a map inside and we used it, by the dim light of a candle at dusk, to locate Kashmir. We spoke our way through the long history of the region, from early times on the Silk Route to the partitions of the twentieth century and the surge of events that have marked the beginning of the twenty-first. We came to the Summer of 2010 in Kashmir – the Machil fake encounter, the death of Tufail and the ensuing protests that were met with horrible, horrible amounts of violence by the Indian forces.
Immediately Julie and Laurent seemed to contextualise the situation in Kashmir into a wider political and historical milieu that drew in Palestine, Tibet and other smaller countries along the Himalayan region that bordered both India and China, including Nepal. Julie asked if India (and Pakistan) wanted Kashmir because of resources? Of course Kashmir had resources but there was a concurrent and perhaps bigger politics of nation-making, of territory and the ego of the state at play. Laurent said after such a long time these things move beyond the logic of ‘resources’ to a point where no one wants to let go, regardless of the consequences.
Julie and Laurent told me that China was sending out dated cans of food to Nepal for consumption. They spoke of Tibetan’s living without passports – a stateless people in between states. China’s occupation of Tibet has been much the same as Israel’s strategic settlement of Palestine. Julie expected that India must be similarly settling Kashmir, as a strategy of occupation. Despite the legal state of lawlessness that characterises Kashmir, article 370, which prohibits people from outside Kashmir owning property in Kashmir, was still very much in place.
Last year India recalled all world maps produced in China because they had depicted Kashmir as an autonomous region. When Laurent was a child living in the United Arab Emirates all his family’s maps had Israel blotted out with a white mark by government officials. Each encyclopaedia had every piece of information about Israel cut out of them, page by page. It is amazing what obsessive lengths insecure and anxious nation-states will go to. Imagine a room filled with fragments of Israel – words, pictures, titles, indexes, essays, maps. Or a warehouse filled with Chinese manufactured globes on the outskirts of an industrial city in India. I wonder what Israel does to the writing of Palestinian histories today?
Nations hold their own interests at heart. Kashmir captures our imaginations because it presents the opportunity, or rather it demands, that we start thinking beyond the conventional form of the nation in order to bring about a solution.
Our conversation was vast. With Kashmir at the core we moved across different parts of the world; relating and re-telling our personal experiences and opinions. Julie spoke repeatedly of minorities and the strategic manipulation of demographics in different parts of the world. We spoke of Roma people across Europe. We spoke of Indigenous people in Australia. We spoke of the banning of the burqa in France. Laurent related much of what we were talking about to the shifting power relations that were taking place globally; the leading characters on the world stage were being replaced. His words made me feel as though we were sitting on the cusp of immense change.