The Social Media Mela was NOT a kitty party
Question: What is the one common thing between a writer from Mumbai, a journalist from Delhi, a famous film maker from India and a junior doctor from Lahore?
Answer: The fact that all of them loved hearing Iqbal Bano sing ‘Dasht e Tanhai main’ on the radio, at the wee hours of the morning while waiting to get CNG at a gas station in Karachi.
For me, that one moment captured the spirit of Pakistan India Social Media Mela 2012. No wonder the slogan of the event said,
‘Faasla Na Rakhen, Pyar ho Jaanay Dain’ (Don’t distance yourself; let love happen)
Organised in Karachi by PeaceNiche, in collaboration with the United States Consulates in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, it was supposed to be a gathering of social media enthusiasts from India and Pakistan.
This being Pakistan, the criticism levelled at the event started much before the event itself. It was an invite-only affair and most people who were invited were recommended by other people. Participants from Lahore and Islamabad were sponsored by US Consulates in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi for their travel and accommodation.
It was my first visit to Karachi and I was really excited about having acquired this opportunity. I boarded the plane from Lahore on the eve of July 12, along with the rest of participants from Lahore. The visit was not only an opportunity to interact with new people but also to get some much needed respite from the hectic schedule at the hospital.
During the flight, I had a long amicable chat with my seat mate whom I discovered was a fellow participant. We were transported to Avari hotel and allotted rooms. When I reached my designated room, I had to pinch myself back to reality; the rooms were spacious and comfortable and had attached baths separated by glass walls; pampered was an understatement.
We were offered BBQ dinner at the top floor of the hotel and that was where we were fortunate enough to meet our fellow Indian participants including Onir, Karuna John, Jugal Mody, Venket Ananth, Sabbah Haji, Annie Zaidi, Raheel Khurshid and Sanjay Rajoura. I, being a vegetarian, found common ground with one of the participants and enjoyed a rather pleasant conversation. Later, I took part in an interesting discussion about Marxism, class struggle and the Pakistan Movement.
The next two days were some of the most enjoyable days I’ve ever had, and most constructive. Despite being an proud ‘Lahori’, I didn’t miss Lahore for a moment. I wouldn’t have met many of my favourite people at one place if I had not come to the mela, including Nadeem F Paracha (one of my mentors), Ali Chishti, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Mohsin Sayeed, Muhammed Hanif, Faiza S Khan, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Declan Walsh, Amir Mughal, Murtaza Solangi, Hassaan Belal a.k.a mighty, Sana Saleem, Ali Arqam, Zebunnisa Burki and the wonderful people from across the border.
In the first day’s session which started at approximately 9:00am, Rehman Malik, usually at the receiving end of mockery by people from the social media forum, was generously praised for urgent attention to the visa problems faced by our guests from India.
The sessions were mostly insightful and informative but I personally enjoyed the off-session activities, where I got the chance to interact with some amazing people from different walks of life.
Some of the more memorable sessions dealt with online activism, the role of social media in the education sector, the use of non-profit for non-profit organisations, online activism, Pakistan-India relations, ‘Slactivism’, the impact of party politics on social media, internet censorship, cyber-bullying and Twitter as the new newsroom.
I was a panellist at the session ‘Fight Club: Rise of the Troll’ alongside Bina Shah, who had come fully prepared with research, Mohsin Sayeed, star of our show and a delightful presence throughout the mela, Raza Rumi and Rab Nawaz, editor of the magazine Laaltain and member of Khudi Pakistan.
Some of the sessions were, indeed, boring but that is how these things usually pan out. Due to my involvement in the recent doctors’ strikes, I had plenty of questions to answer. I was branded ‘the revolutionary doctor’ by Sher Ali, a reporter from The Express Tribune and ‘Hartaali doctor’ was my nick name. After the first day, the event was declared open to everybody because of the quips about elitism and exclusion.
The first day ended with a qawwalli session featuring Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, the best qawwals in Asia. They enthralled the crowd with their renditions of Sufi poetry.
The end of the second day was marked by the hilarity of stand-up comedian Sanjay Rajoura. His act left the audience rolling on the ground with his observational comedy about Facebook albums, Indian Cricket and some social peculiarities.
Amongst many of the slightly ‘touchy’ topics to have been mentioned, Kashmir was brought up but only as barter for Coke Studio by Sanjay in his stand up act. The issue of the persecution of minorities was discussed in detail and panellists included members from the Ahmadi, Hazara and Christian communities. The number of Hazara participants there was extremely encouraging.
Just for the record, contrary to certain beliefs, the event was far from a kitty party and, for those who were bothered by it, only two women actually donned sari’s and they didn’t seem to stand out as social outcasts in any way. Thus, over-generalisations have to be avoided.
It was a unique event that gave faces to those people who have just been known to us through Twitter, Facebook and the likes. The tremendous effort by Sabeen Mahmud and her team at PeaceNiche should be applauded, and I would like to personally thank PeaceNiche and the US Consulate staff for their co-operation, hospitality and congratulate them for hosting such a successful event. Events as such should take place at least once every year.
I would also thank my new friends from Karachi and India, for their love and company.
I left the rejuvenating event with a fresh perspective, a heavy heart, new friends and countless great memories. Until next year!
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.