“I was surprised, you know, when you told me about your art and I realised how little I know of Kashmir.” Isabelle is a French tourist on a working holiday in Australia, “That’s why I wanted to have this tea with you, to learn a little bit more.” Along with the nun chai, I gathered five or six books related to Kashmir. Their materiality and weight helped ground our conversation about a place that was so distant from where we were.
Isabelle looked out to the country in front of us. The wet season rains had produced a thousand shades of green, “Sometimes we really forget how good we have it, while elsewhere…” Isabelle’s voice trailed off. I understood what she meant, yet there was something I couldn’t quite agree with. Things are not always rosy in our own front yard. And they’re not always bad in distant, foreign places either. Sometimes we’re also often blind to the suffering in front of us, and the beauty that lies beyond.
As Isabelle spoke of France I was reminded of a powerful French film called La Haine (The Hatred) about the life of migrants in the outskirts of Paris. The film reveals a way of life in France that most French know little about. It illustrates how easy it is to live somewhere and yet know nothing of how other people live in that very same place. Race and class are big factors. It is easy not to know or see, or to simply look away.
As we spoke of Kashmir, Isabelle’s home in France, and remote Australia, experiences of migration and its relationship to colonisation (and occupation) came to the fore. Rusty Peters, a Gija elder in Warmun, always speaks fondly of the Chinese, the Afghans and the Malay people who migrated to his land. While the white settlers stole Aboriginal land and killed the people, Rusty always makes a point of explaining how the Afghans, the Chinese and the Malay people were ‘kind’.
Similarly in Kashmir there are vast differences between the legacy of desecration created by Indian soldiers and the legacy of migrants who come as individuals. I once met a young Bengali girl who had migrated to small village in the mountains of Kashmir. Her presence had built a family.
All sorts of circumstances drive movement around the world. It is the nature of these movements that shape one’s engagement with place. In a recent interview Raqs Media Collective spoke of this eloquently:
Those who come laden with dust and ashes through their desire transform the places they land on into reservoirs of hope, provided they arrive not as conquerors but as fugitives. That is why migrants renew old worlds and conquistadores destroy new worlds.