Isabelle was surprised that she had not heard of what happened in Kashmir during the Summer of 2010. In fact she had not heard much about Kashmir at all. Isabelle said she wanted to come and have this nun chai in order to learn of something she had previously known next to nothing about. Somehow she felt it was important.
Each with a hot cup of buttery nun chai in our hands we sat together and began to speak about Kashmir. The narrative of our conversation began with the 117 people who died last year, and moved back into the histories that lead to their death. I had pulled out from the shelf five or six books related to Kashmir and their materiality and weight helped to root our conversation about a place that was so distant from where we were. After sometime Isabelle sat back and looked out at the landscape in front of us. The wet season rains had produced a thousand shades of green, and she said, we so often forget how good we have it, while in other parts of the world….but her voice trailed off.
I understood what Isabelle was referring to, yet there was a dualism inherent in what she said that I was hesitant to agree with. You see, sometimes we become blind both to the suffering in front of us and the beauty beyond us. And sometimes we become blind to the beauty in front of us and the suffering beyond.
As we began to find connections between Kashmir, Isabelle’s home in France and remote Indigenous Australia, where we sat together with this nun chai, experiences of migration and its relationship to colonisation (and occupation) came to the fore.
The exodus of the Kashmiri Pundits, in the early 1990’s, moving south of Kashmir into northern India and other parts of the world. A Kashmiri Diaspora, both Hindu and Muslim, that emerged largely in response to the conflict. Isabelle spoke of French colonisation, its relationship to the migrant population in France today and its simmering of racial tensions. The First Australians had their land stolen, occupied and torn apart by the British and since then we have had continuous waves of people migrating from all corners of the world – each with their own histories and experiences of conquer and escape.
As Isabelle spoke of France I was reminded of a French film called La Haine (The Hatred) about the life of migrants in contemporary France. It is very possible to live somewhere and yet know nothing of how other people live in that same place. La Haine reveals a way of life most people in France know little about. Most people in Australia know little about life in remote Indigenous communities. Most people in South Asia know little of life in occupied Kashmir. It is very easy to simply look away.
Rusty Peters, an Indigenous elder of the Gija community in the East Kimberley where Isabelle and I currently live, always speaks fondly of the Chinese, the Afghans and the Malay people who migrated to his land. While the white settlers stole the land, massacred the Gija people, and raped the women Rusty always emphasizes how the Afghans, the Chinese and the Malay people were friends with the Aboriginals.
All sorts of circumstances drive peoples’ movements around the world and 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. Their words invite reflection on the worlds of Kashmir, France and Australia that Isabelle and I spoke of. I am reminded of the soldiers who make a desecration of Kashmir and the story of a young Bengali girl who migrated to a small village in Kashmir for love, her presence building a family:
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. We are free to choose the paths that earlier histories of migration and foraging have opened up.