Australian artist Alana Hunt was moved by the ban on pre-paid cellphone and text messaging in Kashmir. She created paper text messages, a few inches of square paper that have the names of an addressee and the writer on top followed by a space for a handwritten message.
Hundreds of Kashmiris responded by writing personal and political messages, which she compiled in a small book, Paper Text Messages from Kashmir. Kashmir Life reproduces her introduction and some paper messages.
Heart, be faithful to his mad refrain – For he soaked the wicks of clay lamps,
lit them each night as he climbed these steps to read messages scratched on planets.
Agha Shahid Ali
The Country Without a Post Office
The lines of nation-states have fractured the shape of Kashmir. Today the mountainous region sits occupied and divided between India, Pakistan and China.
For more than sixty years people in Kashmir have been waiting for the right to self-determination; promised a plebiscite that has not yet come.For the last twenty of those years war has raged in various forms. It is a torn place; endless kilometres of barbed wire run like open veins across its surfaces. Still, life remains in motion.
In the winter of December 2009 close to a thousand “paper txt msgs” were distributed throughout Indian administered Kashmir as a kind of tongue-in-cheek response to the government’s ban on pre-paid mobile phone services in the region.
Virtually overnight hundreds of thousands of mobile phone users – people conducting business, college students, families, distanced lovers – were left without means of telecommunication.
There was little more than a whisper across the Indian media; it was not an isolated incident. The monitoring, blocking and banning of phone services is just one of the many ways in which the military occupation intervenes into, disrupts and desecrates the rhythms of daily life in Kashmir.
Through the distribution of an “alternative communicative tool” dejected pre-paid subscribers were invited to write a “paper-txt-msg”, to anyone real or imagined, about anything they would like to write in a txt msg but were suddenly unable to do so.
These paper txt msgs moved between people’s hands in different ways and different places; they carried stories of their own, with many eventually finding their way back to me in New Delhi.
Accompanied by a range of texts that touch upon the experiences of Kashmir today, it is these paper txt msgs, a cacophony of diversely wonderful voices, that fill the following pages….