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Ban on SMS invokes elegy by Aussie
NOOR-UL-QAMRAIN  10th Jul 2011

Mom n Dad, Salaam. Don't wait for me at dinner...I will be late, as usual J" A normal message, from a son to his parents. It is part of an e-book of 150 paper text messages from Kashmir, collected by Australian artist Alana Hunt s part of an art project.

Her work was inspired by the various bans by the government on short messaging service or SMS and pre- and post-paid mobile connections in the Valley. "In the winter of December 2009 close to a thousand paper text messages 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," writes Hunt, 26, in her project.

The ban on pre-paid services, and, therefore, SMSs via it, stays in the valley though the ban on post-paid mobile connections was lifted.

"Out of the 1,000 which were distributed, 150 came back to me," said Hunt, who has visited Kashmir many times. The messages were written on paper, and several came back to her individually via the post or in packages.

Hunt's e-book opens with a quote from Kashmiri-American poet Agha Shahid Ali's poem "The Country Without a Post Office" which was about the Kashmiri struggle.

Inside the e-book are messages such as the one written by Arshi Javeed to the dead poet: "Your country has a post office now, but postal system has become irrelevant. When the world is becoming hi-tech, our pre-paid phone connections are being scrapped."

The messages show the urge among people including college students, families, and lovers to communicate and connect. A lover has written to his beloved, Mantasha, "I want to say sorry, but can't say it as SMS doesn't go through."

There are dozens of messages addressed to Home Minister P. Chidambaram. One from college student Nida says, "P. Chidambaram, really irritating on your part to impose ban on pre-paid connections. At least let us breathe freely."

Hunt has showcased the messages in exhibitions in New Delhi and Sydney. "It is also exciting to imagine these 850 text messa-ges that weren't given (back) to me, to what use they were put in the valley," said Hunt.

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