As part of The National 2021: New Australian Art exhibiting artist Alana Hunt will be Carriageworks inaugural Writer in Residence. Working progressively over the course of the exhibition she will publish Conversations and Correspondence—six texts that take as their starting point the bodies of work All the violence within this and In the national interest both exhibited as part of the exhibition.
For the third in the series, Gluttony, Alana Hunt is in conversation with Mona Bhan—a cultural anthropologist from Kashmir working in the US. Her work explores the role of economic and infrastructural development in counterinsurgency operations and people’s resistance movements to protracted war and conflict.
Alan Hunt: I’ve previously heard you speak about, how in the US, people sometimes ask, “Why should we care about Kashmir?” And you said, besides the humanitarian crisis, there’s the environmental crisis which ties us globally.
Mona Bhan: You know, in some ways, so much has changed since that conversation. Now, almost a year and a half into the pandemic, this question seems even more bizarre—to think of places as siloed off from each other, as if borders and boundaries are going to protect us from the deep ecological crisis or the deep public health crisis that we’re in.
Of course, it is clear that places cannot be neatly divided; they are indeed deeply intertwined. So, as we are battling with the catastrophe, the apocalyptic scenario unfolding in India, and Kashmir both, makes it clear that we are vulnerable together.
Of course viruses don’t recognise borders. The pandemic has made this fundamental fact amply clear, that whatever you do to seal those borders off, however much infrastructure that you build just to “save” yourself from the other, it’s just not happening. Our survival is interlinked.
This day was particularly hard for me. Thinking about my own vulnerabilities here, and how those vulnerabilities are of course deeply attached to what’s happening in Kashmir. Not just because I’m Kashmiri, but also as a human, being in the US right now where many people seem to have forgotten what the virus did to the US last year.
Sorry if I’m digressing.
AH: No, no, we can…of course.
MB: You know, there’s so much coverage in the international media about what’s unfolding in India, which I’m very thankful for, because there’s a complete clamping down of any form of expression under the Modi regime. But at the same time, I also see what’s happening in the US. You see many here now ignoring the disease because it’s happening somewhere else. And it can also become, yet again, very easy for the US to frame it as a disease of the Third World. So again, we’re slipping into those binaries, and there is a reason to be wary even as I recognize the urgent need for us to hold India accountable for what Arundhati Roy rightly pointed out was Modi’s crime against humanity.
Going back to that point about being siloed off, viewing Kashmir as its own thing. I feel if you don’t see how related we are, how interconnected we are now—one and a half years into the pandemic—I just don’t know what else it’s going to take for us to finally get it.
AH: I don’t know what’s happened in the US, but Australia’s just banned all flights from India because of the pandemic. But in addition to that, any Australian citizen who returns home after being in India at the moment, is threatened with five or six years prison. That’s a policy even public figures on the far right are calling racist.
MB: It gets complicated, right? What we’re seeing in India is this fascist regime in power, and that fascist regime is going to be responsible for not just the annihilation of Indians, but also of Kashmiris, the latter, of course, they won’t care for at all.
But at the same time, these select people are going to be responsible for this particular strain of the virus spreading to many other countries. It’s already in 17 other nations. It’s just a matter of time. That’s why I feel questions of politics are central…Who’s in power, right? What kind of people/regimes are in power? It’s such an important question and often gets completely erased when we’re thinking about ecological issues, when we’re thinking about public health issues. But if COVID has shown us anything, it is the deep connections between fascism and the multiple crises that we’re in, or those we await.
I don’t think we can take care of our climate or our public health without also fixing what’s really broken with our political systems. Whether it’s about the violence of settler colonialism, the violence of occupation, the violence of militarism, fascism, Hindu nationalism in the case of the Indian context, racism in Australia. I mean all those issues are deeply connected. And it’s very convenient for policymakers, but also for a lot of people, to ignore these connections… to say that we can just fix the climate overnight, or we can greenwash policies without questioning or challenging what is rotten at the core.
I’m feeling a lot of despair right now, to be honest. The news trickling from Kashmir and from India—friends are in hospitals, literally gasping for air. Some have died. You would think of these apocalyptic scenarios, as science fiction. It’s just surreal. I was talking to a friend of mine this morning, who said that “I want to run away, but where, where do I go to breathe? I can’t breathe.”
We’re in a moment where the ground is really shifting beneath our feet. I don’t think we have the time or the luxury to figure it all out. I just don’t know what it’s going to take for us to sink or swim. It would mean a radical restructuring of the global world order. And how nation states function, how these authoritarian regimes survive. And that’s the sad part, that despite so much that’s happened, people in India, a lot of them, not all, but a lot of them still think that it’s got nothing to do with the political regime at the center. They still think these issues are disconnected, because the virus is a “natural”, biological entity. It’s not seen as a political entity. Or some continue to dismiss it as a conspiracy.
AH: That relationship between the apparently natural and political worlds is something that you’ve worked on in relation to the 2014 floods in Kashmir, right?
MB: Absolutely. A lot of people considered the floods to be a natural force that had nothing to do with politics, but others attributed intentionality to the floods. A popular Hindu nationalist narrative was that it was really a force of nature, punishing Kashmiris for being anti-national, for being anti-India, for being anti-Hindu. So that was considered to be a moment of redemption, if you will, for many Indians.
And then there was politicisation by Kashmiris themselves, which I think was much needed, because I felt up until 2014, even Kashmiris were not directly connecting ecological events with the politics of occupation. But I think the 2014 floods, in some ways, was that break. That sort of rupture which really forced them to see that nature could become a weapon in the hands of the Indian state.
There were similar concerns in communities that I worked with in Gurez and Bandipora, where the 330 megawatt Kishanganga Dam was being built. The idea was that eventually what the Indian government was trying to do, would eliminate the population entirely from that area, and transform the place into an empty borderland. Which the Indian military would be able to manage better, because Gurez was a frontier space, and was often in the news for being the zone of infiltration from Pakistan.
So there were all these concerns at the time, this was way back in 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018 before the abrogation in 2019. These dams were being weaponised to shape, to restructure that space, to displace populations, but also to alter weather patterns by changing important micro-climates. These dams were making it impossible for people to grow their staple crops, because the land had become marshier. And because of the reservoir, the cloud cover was lower and denser, and stayed on for longer. And especially in a cold place like Gurez, where there’s already a lot of snow and frigid weather, the dam would bring the temperature down even more, making it almost impossible, even for those who were not directly impacted by the dam, to survive.
So there were all these concerns related to how dams were indeed being weaponised and used as a way to ensure the extermination of people from that landscape.
AH: Lake Argyle was formed because of the construction of a dam wall, near where I live. The lake is around 18 times larger than all of Sydney Harbor. And this huge body of water is held together by sand and stone, literally balancing on top of each other; no concrete. There’s a small wedge between two mountains, which they filled in with the stone that was sourced after blowing up another mountain—It was the largest non-nuclear explosion in Australian history—and now it is valorised as a piece of engineering genius, but the dam is barely utilised. It flooded, huge tracts of land here in the 1970s, Indigenous land, inhabited land predominately on Miriwoong country. At that point in time, no Miriwoong people were consulted. And exactly what you’re saying—people’s homes, their agricultural systems, the roads with which they journeyed from one place to another and connected for ceremonies and trade with other people, all of this was basically disappeared under the water. A report I read by the Kimberley Land Council compared the trauma of this event to a natural disaster, only worse because there was no recovery process.
There was one house on the cattle station, owned by the colonists, the Durack family who actually played a vital role in the formation of this dam. Of course, their house was relocated and turned into a museum that now sits above the dam. No mention of Miriwoong loss in this colonial sphere. The whole lake now is largely seen by tourists, as well as non-indigenous residents, as a place of immense beauty, a place to take their boats out on the weekend. All of this really turns my gut, and that’s what a lot of my work is trying to scratch at. Somewhere else you wrote about the “settler colonial fantasy”, and I’ve been thinking about this same thing as colonial dreams that materialise through forms of leisure, and by extension tourism, and also development, but are inherently and deeply violent. Lake Argyle, the dam was also weaponised by the Australian state to consolidate and expand its ability to exist in this region. I like what you wrote about how things like sand and gravel are not apolitical, but materials that hold political ideologies in place.
And so this dam, is actually what enabled the establishment of the town that I now live in. The dam enabled colonisation to flourish here. And without that dam, the town and the non-Indigenous world it forged, would not be feasible. There are a lot of elements of your work in Kashmir that resonate with where I live.
An awful lot of energy goes into maintaining this colonial settlement… And a large impetus behind creating the dam in the sixties and seventies, was to secure colonisation in the north-west of Australia, to be able to control this region, and was particularly driven by the fear of an “Asian invasion” coming in from Indonesia. Until the 1970s this region was not fully governable, and in some senses today this is still true.
But I also think of tourism, which brings me to the Tulip Gardens in Kashmir, images of which recently flooded our social media feeds.
MB: Yeah. I was looking at your photos, and I know a lot of this work focused on leisure. People just lounging around in the water. There is a distinct whiteness to it, in that context, of nudity, or being partially naked or wearing your bikinis. In the Indian context, you often also see very similar things happen around pilgrimages. Hordes of people storm in from India and take a bath in the open in Kashmir’s rivers. That juxtaposition of nudity against Kashmir’s “pastoral” landscape is a violent intervention—through body cells.
The Tulip Garden was exactly that. I remember these photos being posted on Facebook, The tulips in this context are a symbol of the Indian occupation. These manicured rows of them, right? They become soldier-like in that manicured context.
I felt this same sort of emotion looking at these airport photos with a sea of people in the middle of a pandemic, just coming into Kashmir, to do what, right? Is it to seek refuge, or is it to become the organic weapon that carries the virus to Kashmiris, even as they themselves might be vulnerable.
The tulips are a particularly interesting feature of that colonial landscape. There were people in Kashmir posting photos of other kinds of flowers that are Indigenous, that are found in Kashmir, and they were saying: these are our tulips. So then to recognise that this very crafted, manufactured landscape or manufactured wilderness, if you will, is a way to hide the deep violence that it embodies, and it carries with it.
It’s also very strange. There’s these photos of the tulip garden in my head as we speak. There’s one in particular where, after the gates to the garden were closed, there’s a bunch of Indian tourists literally climbing the walls.
AH: I saw that too.
MB: It is this Indian obsession with the Kashmiri landscape. At whatever cost—even your own health. These people are fixing their gaze onto an element of a landscape that they think is Kashmiri (which they want to own). It is an expression of ownership by whatever means necessary. On the other hand, I really wonder, where does that obsession comes from? Are people that starved for a glimpse of the tulip? I want to ask: what are you doing? Where does that feeling of being starved or feeling starved even come from? What political work needs to go into that? I just didn’t know what to do with that picture of those tourists climbing up the garden wall. It actually made me sad about what these people were doing to themselves, not just to the landscape or to Kashmiris, but to their own selves.
AH: Definitely when I was making my own images, I was thinking about that sense of entitlement. I hadn’t thought of it along the lines of starvation, but more along the lines of consumption and greed. But maybe starvation is an interesting frame in this context.
MB: It’s gluttony, right?
AH: Yeah, gluttony.
MB: That’s the word. It’s not starvation per se. It is this feeling of experiencing some degree of starvation, which then forces you to be gluttonous. And colonialism is fundamentally about gluttony. You want more, you thrive on excess, you always want because you can never be satisfied, you can never say, okay, this is it because colonial empires need constant feeding.
AH: Constant. I think that extends to the idea of development as well, in the sense that things have constantly got to progress. It’s key to that ideology. There is no pause.
The black and white photos from In the national interest are of gravel pits that dot most of the highways where I live. They’re basically dug up to produce gravel that then produces the roads, which become the veins, or routes, of colonisation. Roads enable settlement, and connection between other parts of the settlement, but roads are also the things that allow people to journey to the springs depicted in All the violence within this. And so on the one hand, when I was making these images, there was this sense of lushness, of richness, and beauty that the springs evoke in that green landscape, but they’re coming at the cost of this—the very dystopic underbelly of development.
When I made these works I was thinking through things like tourism and development as weapons of the state, but through making the work, as I went deeper, I realised that I was also touching on environmental issues, and their interconnectedness. This is something central to your work. Do you want to talk a little bit about the relationship between environmentalism and self-determination in Kashmir?
MB: I do want to speak to that, but I also want to go back to the black and white images, because as I’m sort of looking through them, you know what I’m reminded of? These huge craters on the highway that connects Bandipora with Gurez where land has been dug up to supply the gravel and the soil or the sand from the rivers or mountains to the dam. Sand has become a big issue in Kashmir after 5 August 2019, because there’s a lot of sand mining that’s happening and those contracts have now gone to Indians.
AH: I’ve seen some pretty horrible photos of that.
MB: I didn’t even know, until I started working in Gurez, how important sand from the Kishanganga River was as a resource, and how much people actually relied on it, not just for their livelihood, but also to build their own homes. That digging up of gravel and soil and sand—those are the images that really stuck out to me because they remind you of these scarred landscapes—scars of capitalism, of neo-liberalism, and of militarism, where all the gluttony has left a void. It’s like what used to be and what now does not exist. But, you know interestingly in 2014, right after the floods, I was in Kashmir and went to Uri—
AH: I’ve been there.
MB: You’ve been to Uri? Right. I wrote this piece with Parvaiz Bukhari, but essentially, what had happened, the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) had built a dam, way back in the nineties and they had deposited all this gravel, concrete and muck in one place, but not properly disposed it. It created this big hill, on the edge of the village. The muck had been sitting there for years, and then in 2014, because of the floods, it suddenly collapsed. And because it collapsed there were these boulders and these stones, trunks, twigs that came crashing down and altered the course of the river.
All this muck settled on the river and cut it, it sliced the river, but it also made agricultural land completely useless. So people lost a lot of their prime land. What was interesting in 2014 was how one of the key people who we met there, Razia, who we write about in that piece, was trying hard to file a case against the NHPC for its negligence. For the improper disposal of this muck that had now finally ruined their village and the land that they cultivated. Unfortunately, nothing came out of the case because village politics got in the way. But I mean, this is to say that the life of that muck, the life of gravel, the life of concrete, the life of sand, it extends beyond what one might first think or anticipate.
In that sense, the ground reanimates a particular kind of resistance, at least at the local level where people are connecting that muck with those memories of the NHPC building that dam. It’s almost like you’re looking at an archive in the muck, which was just sitting quietly and now, because of the floods, all of these pieces of memory are everywhere. Fragments of it everywhere for people to then piece together.
It was very powerful for me to see the weakness. I hadn’t realised this, but it comes back to the agency of these non-human forces. Floods can damage your land for good, because you do need a lot of human power, a lot of machines in some cases to clear the land. And often the phrase that I hear people say, land is not just there you make land, right? You literally make land to make it grow crops. It’s not just there. And that’s the settler colonial misperception, right? The land is there; it’s always been there. You just need to go and be there and claim it. So it’s the difference between claiming it and working it, claiming it and understanding and engaging with it in a way that speaks to that relatedness between you and your land.
That’s completely absent in these colonial narratives of consumption, gluttony or obsession. When I was looking at the photographs, so much of it resonated with what I know of/from Kashmir, especially that one picture with that tree standing still. I thought it was very poignant and telling because it speaks to me of persistence, an important ethic and practice in Indigenous lives.
I know a lot of people talk about erasure and elimination, but that also makes it seem as if Indigenous communities are people of the past. Within Indigenous groups in the United States and elsewhere, many have turned to studies of persistence. What kinds of forums and expressions allow Indigenous communities to persist, to continue to live, continue to exist, to be visible, to be known?
That tree just made me think about persistence in ways that were very resonant with my own work. After the dam was commissioned and the reservoir literally just ate up the village, devoured the entire village, there remained the ruins of a mosque—that was the only building that hadn’t fully been consumed. For a lot of people that meant something. There was talk about it in some of the prayers. The journey to that site almost became a pilgrimage. There were a lot of people who were resettled after they were displaced and after their homes were devoured by the reservoir, but they would make it a point to walk to these ruins every night, every day. And until they did that, they didn’t feel fully alive.
This theme of persistence is something I’m very interested in, especially I think at a time when Kashmiris are feeling nothing but despair, and given the extent of the draconian reach of the state now under Modi and with COVID. For personal reasons, I am still very invested in this idea of how do we persist despite the violence.
AH: Where I live exists between the desert and the tropics—a savannah. So we get a big wet season for three or four months every year. And then we get eight months of zero rain. And towards the end of that period, we get fires. You spoke before about making land. In Australia, Indigenous people largely managed the country through fire via strategic burning, though this management was weakened by colonisation. Today fires and floods are an almost annual thing where I live, sometimes at a devastating level, but not always. I often think about how the country itself is rejuvenated after a flood or fire. Whereas all the colonial apparatus of roads and buildings have to constantly be maintained. Road signs are burnt almost annually, and large chunks of road are often turned over by flood water. It is a reminder of how the colonial state needs to constantly maintain its presence here.
MB: That’s such a great example. The highway that connects Jammu with Kashmir—the kind of upkeep that requires, the money and lives that it consumes. It’s sacrifice on sacrifice, quote unquote, on many different levels. And yet the highway serves as a constant reminder of how the connections between India and Kashmir are forced. Our ancestors used to say this that the more organic route is actually on the other side that connects with Pakistan, that route could actually become an all-weather road. That’s how the mountains are laid. That’s how, Kashmiris claim, their rivers and glaciers have carved out those parts organically over the years. But this highway between Jammu has taken so much from them, they say. So many people I know have died on that highway.
I like that idea of the constant upkeep because it’s not just the upkeep of power of, of roads or infrastructure, but it’s also, in turn that infrastructure is allowing you to demonstrate power, right?
AH: A lot of the things we’re talking about—like sand or gravel and roads, or even things like tourism—seem like pretty banal things. But as you have spoken about, these things are weaponised. A lot of my work in Australia is about trying to make visible this weaponisation, the inherent violence in my own settler-colonial culture.
But sometimes when I talk to other non-Indigenous people about this, they’re quite taken aback at the idea of their lives being wrapped up in this violence, that they commonly see as historic and not ongoing. There is an inability to see ourselves in the present.
So I am wondering, how important is it for you, if we think about those people visiting the Tulip Gardens which you referred to as “organic weapons carriers”—carriers of the virus—how important is it that people recognise this in themselves?
MB: I think that’s fundamental to any radical revisioning of our society and politics. And I think that’s the most difficult thing in all my years of teaching. I say to my students all the time, the hardest thing is to step outside of yourself and see yourself from outside in and then to recognise your own privilege. It’s hard sometimes to fully take cognizance of what ways one might be privileged. I think that’s the hardest thing, but in this case, it’s not even about privilege. It’s about this deep sense of entitlement that something is yours and it’s somehow inherently yours.
I wonder about this all the time. Where does this sense of entitlement come from? Unfortunately, part of it is because of this colonial idea of Kashmir as Indian, as part of the Indian sacred geography that many Hindus embrace uncritically. And that’s where the notion of indigeneity gets complicated in Kashmir. Because a lot of Indian Hindus assert Kashmir’s past as solely Hindu, and use this ideology to legitimise the violent extermination of Kashmiri Muslims.
So I think it’s important to keep in mind how indigeneity itself can become a weapon used by the Indian Hindu state.
But coming back to your question, how important is it for conversations like this to happen? How important is it for Indians to recognise how colonial that need to consume Kashmir is, and in what forms and shapes it expresses itself, whether it’s through gazing at tulips, or the shikara, or the Dal Lake or Gulmarg, or these glacial landscapes. It’s that voracious right or entitlement to consume that drives the colonial gluttony.
AH: Going back to that photograph of the Indian tourists climbing the gates of the Tulip Garden, during a discussion between you and Mohamad Junaid, the two of you spoke about how in many ways, because of the political ideology that dominates, India is in fact more colonised than the Kashmir it is attempting to colonise. And that despite the extent of the military occupation there are areas of life within Kashmir that remain far less colonised than India itself.
MB: Again, I come to this notion of persistence. Is this claim of the colonial powers total? Can it ever be absolute, or can we see that there are forces in Kashmir, whether human forces or non-human forces, that defy that totality of rule, the totality of domination? I speak about that in relation to Jinn. Going back to Uri, when Razia saw her landscape completely devastated, her cultivable land completely gone. She speaks of meeting the Jinn who had come from far-far away, from this particular land that she used to go to with her Dad, but now was completely inaccessible due to the density and scale of militarised infrastructure.
Razia spoke about how this Jinn empowered her to fix the land. She brought in bulldozers after the floods, and is actually one of the few female contractors in Kashmir that I know of. But she speaks of this experience with the Jinn who inspired her to reconnect, to think of this geography beyond its securitisation and beyond the logics of military, beyond the logics of the security infrastructure, because what the Jinn did was traverse these spaces and timescales that were hard for humans to traverse.
For Razia, but also for many other communities in Kashmir I have worked with, the landscape is something that has a lot of spiritual merit and power. And that has stayed with me. The curse of that landscape on people can be palpable. Something I’m still working through is this idea of how because Kashmir has these four unique seasons, the weather itself becomes so different from the rest of India that Indians don’t know how to cope with it. I saw that during my work in Kargil, for example, where border communities would constantly tell me how during the Kargil war, it was impossible for Indian soldiers to scale up these mountains because they just didn’t know how to do it. Some soldiers had not even seen snow, I was told, let alone climbed up glaciers and Kargil’s high mountain peaks.
So there is this inability to survive in what the military describes as, “hostile weather conditions”. But what does that mean? What does it mean to call something “hostile” when, in fact, that’s the weather people have lived with all their lives. That’s the weather they know. That’s the weather they admire, the weather they like. They might complain about it, like we all do about weather, but that doesn’t mean it is hostile. It’s not strange. It’s not the other. It’s their own. But every time you open up a military manual, the glacier becomes hostile. It also of course, reminds me of what settlers here did in the US terrain, renaming Indigenous places to resignify them as dead and/or empty, or dangerous.
They gave colonial names; imposed names onto landscape features that were part of people’s intimate social lives. And to me, one of the worst forms of violence, especially in these frontier areas or border areas in Kashmir, is that many younger people do not use local names for the mountains, or for other landscape features, now. There are names for the mountains etc. in the local language that were based on the location of particular nulluhs (tracks that glaciers carved out). But now the mountains have these military names—named after these military installations or cantonments or the infrastructure. So brigade one, two, three; brigade four, five, six. That’s a really deep form of violence.
AH: That is Australia all over. It’s changing gradually, with Indigenous place names being reinstated, but there’s a lot of push back around that too, with non-Indigenous people getting grumpy at having to change the name of a place that they might’ve known for 40 years or so, unable to grasp that the Indigenous name is potentially, tens of thousands of years old.
Further, where I live Weaber Plain Road is named after two brothers who murdered Indigenous people, many say in a massacre. There has been some push within the community to change the name of this road, but counter arguments claim there is no solid evidence these settlers were murderers to begin with. Oral histories are still not respected in the same way as written ones. So the name remains.
MB: I feel that sadness can also bring some clarity of thought. Though I don’t know that any of us need more clarity. It’s baffling to me that people who are sick right now with COVID, and they’re not sure whether they’re going to live or not, can still defend Modi. That’s baffling. That’s like this whole level of sacrifice or subservience that is hard to fathom. It’s a whole new level of worship.
AH: I think it was yesterday, Arundhati Roy published a piece asking Modi to resign. I felt that it was just such a direct, plain, desperate piece. It made me—
MB: I know.
MB: I know. That’s a great way to explain it. It was desperate. And coming from her and the fact that she said, Just do whatever it takes. Bring the RSS on board, but do whatever it takes, just leave. I can hear that desperation in everyone’s voices. The virus is not a great equalizer in any way. It’s obviously impacting the poor and the marginal more and will continue to impact them more. But in some ways it also doesn’t discriminate in the same ways that something else might. I’m still wrapping my head around this. There’s part of me that thinks, of course it’s discriminating. It is not impacting people equally. And yet there’s a part of it that can, because it’s got this energy, it’s got this agency that we cannot fully control, predict, or claim. So it can change course. There is a part of it that can get you regardless of who you are. And I think that’s its strength in a moment like this, but it’s also something that we just don’t know how to live with. It’s a strange time.
AH: Those black and white photos, with my son running around in a couple of them as well. It feels like this dystopic world, which our lives are producing, that he’s going to have to reckon with. That real dystopia, if it’s not already here, is hurtling towards us.
MB: I love that photo actually. It’s also left a deep imprint on my mind. But, I feel, there’s also some hope there.
AH: Yeah. Like he can do it.
MB: It’s open. It’s an embrace. It seems like an empty landscape and yet he is running towards it, wanting to embrace it. And I don’t know what it is about—maybe it is that age, maybe it is that generation, that somehow already know that they have inherited a broken planet. I have a seven-year old and I’ve seen him now for a year talking about death in a very matter of fact way. It also alarms me. He wants all the details when someone is dead. I call him our census taker in the family.
It’s this normalisation of death in his life on a day-to-day basis. It’s insane. We talk about death every day in this family and this is something that’s been happening for a year and a half, whether it’s protests or police brutalities, I mean all forms of death, not just COVID. It’s so crazy. Last year we had this big Kashmir protest in New York city and he was there. He was only six at the time, but it’s left such a deep imprint on him. Every time Kashmiris get together, he’ll say, are we protesting? But there is resilience and resistance in that too.
AH: Definitely. There is a hope in the embrace, in the running towards, in knowing the detail. Not that we want our kids to inherit a broken world, but I guess it’s undeniable that the world is broken and breaking. And I want to give my son the capacity to run at it, still.
MB: I think about extinction a lot, and I do feel that is in the future for humanity. I don’t think that’s cynical at all. I think that’s just the way things are going. To your point, the world is broken already. The question is what will they do with that broken world? To what extent are they able to pick up the pieces and build something very new? And how do we prepare them for that? I think about that a lot as a Mum to a seven-year old. I’m not in the camp that believes that we need to protect our kids from the world.
AH: There was a paragraph in one of your pieces. I’m not sure I’m going to find it right now, but it was this paragraph on conceptions of freedom. And the older women were recalling spending hours each day in the forest, gathering wood, grass, fruit and herbs. The idea of freedom that you evoked in these paragraphs, through these women, I found so beautiful. It felt exactly like what we need.
MB: I think that’s what these women meant. They would tell me often that the dam has limited them, limited their movement, limited the ways they connect with the mountains and the forest. That’s because there’s so much concrete and infrastructure now that cuts off the landscape in very haphazard ways. At the same time it’s also because the landscape is populated by outsiders, like engineers, there are workers from all over, and notions of modesty kick in, and women didn’t feel comfortable enough to step out the way they used to. They spoke of the openness of the fields, and just being able to, exactly like your son, run with this open armed embrace.