The Social Media Mela was NOT a kitty party

Published: July 16, 2012

It was a unique event that gave faces to those people who have just been known to us through Twitter, Facebook and the likes. PHOTO: TOOBA MASOOD

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!

Read more by Abdul Majeed here or follow him on Twitter @abdulmajeedabid

Abdul.Majeed

Abdul Majeed

A final year medical student with interests in history, political economy and literature. He blogs at abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com/ and tweets as @abdulmajeedabid

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Ahmed

    Thank you for this eye-opening blog, you just confirmed our suspicions that this ‘event’ was a gigantic waste of time and money.Recommend

  • Anon..

    well the majority opinion still remains that it was a clique-y kitty party. Still not convinced otherwise.Recommend

  • Ayesha

    Nothing, not a word about the discussions! I do not know who Zebunnissa Burki or Onir are. Nor do I care. What did they have to say? On Kashmir? On the recent US sponsored trade developments between India and Pakistan. Were they a diverse bunch of people are largely liberal? What the hell was so ‘wonderful’ about them. For now, i’m siding with the chick who trashed you guys. Recommend

  • khan
  • WoW

    @author
    what do you have to say about the fact that this event itself was State Department sponsored under the auspices of Peace Niche, and that every session was attended by US Consulated officials, which makes me wonder how transparent and credible these sessions and discussions were. How do I know this? From the social media itself, where the US Consulate did not hesitate in promoting themselves under the guise of this event. It really makes me question the so called activists who attended this event and call themselves liberals and demcrats?
    Would you attend an event funded by the ISI or the Pak Army? It is hypocrisy to bash Army funds whilst attending events and throwing weight behind foreign state agency funded funds. The criticism of this event being a farce make complete sense in this regard.Recommend

  • http://en.gravatar.com/kashifjamal Kashif Jamal

    I once wrote a similar essay, “My summer trip to Karachi”. I was in grade 5. Well done, you’re pretty good for an adult!Recommend

  • EdMal

    “pampered was an understatement” !…. and discussions about Marxism !! all in the same breath??? hehehe… need I say more?
    Thanks… to the US Consulate Staff…
    …Is this sim sim hamara …. part two in the making?Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/430/faraz-talat/ Faraz Talat

    Looks like you had a blast! I’m jealous.

    Nicely written..Recommend

  • EyeRoll!

    marx is rolling in his grave to be mentioned at this imperialist capitalist sponsored event. What a pointless name dropping article!Recommend

  • eureka

    @Ayesha:

    For now, i’m siding with the chick who trashed you guys.

    ET should ask her to cover a DPC rally.readers would love to read that report.Recommend

  • not impressed

    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.

    i think you might want to check out some real qawals. Recommend

  • not impressed

    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.

    HAHAHAHAHA ET this is ridiculous – might i add that I, being a meat eating fiend, find no common ground with Indians and also enjoy that pleasant confrontation. Oh and I also consider myself a che guevera fan. I have a t shirt that I bought from Urban Outfitters. Recommend

  • Indi-Pop

    Nice to see the “Kashmiris” in the contingent being referred as “Indians”, I agree. ;)Recommend

  • Mj

    Dear Author,

    You should know by now that any gathering which isn’t against Amreeka, Israel, India, Nato, drones is considered a waste of time by our general population. Funny how the issues and technologies which affect the future of this country and any discussions on it are considered futile while memogate, drones, and Malik Riaz enthrall the public.Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    @wow,
    “Would you attend an event funded by the ISI or the Pak Army? It is hypocrisy to bash Army funds whilst attending events and throwing weight behind foreign state agency funded funds. The criticism of this event being a farce make complete sense in this regard.”

    well said. Recommend

  • Waqas

    Good to know you had a good time chatting. Next time I go out with friends for dinner, I will also write about it. Express Tribune zindabad….Recommend

  • Ursilla

    Well written. And even though I’m was not there, thank God all these mummy-daddy revolutionaries who have such a prob with US Counsalate sponsoring the event weren’t there either.

    In fact, I suggest Saudi and Sudanese counsalte hold a social media mela for these guys. Whiners. Recommend

  • imaan.sheikh

    @Ayesha:
    Haha, thank you, Ayesha. As ‘the chick who trashed them’, I want to clarify that I didn’t mean to insult anyone. I just wanted to point out that such summits have so much potential, or maybe my expectations them are too high. This one, in distractions, failed to raise topics that mattered a lot. Thanks.

    @author: My friend, there could be so much said in response to my piece. I think you didn’t cater to the truly to the debate. Nicely written, though. There will be bashing either way! :)

    Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    Ursilla,

    we are absolutely not your “mummy-daddy revolutionaries”. And we are also not your “bad Muslim” either. So, we don’t need to be funded by the proverbial states imagined as “backward” (eg., Saudi, Sudan, Iran) by the likes of you.Recommend

  • http://watever.com Ali Muhammad

    Mazmoon: Pakistan India Social Media Mela 2012

    Pakistan India social media mela bohot achi cheeze hoti hai. Yeh iss baar 2012 mein howa. Yeh Karachi mein hota hai. Toh phir mein karachi chala gaya. Karachi mein Jahaz se gya. Jahaz ka Safar bara acha hota hai. Jahaz ke do pur hotay hain. Waisay 2, 3 aur bhi hotay hain per woh per bekar per hotay hain Kyunkay chotay hotay hain.. Jahaz hawa mein urta hai. Paani mein uray toh issay behri jahaz kehtay hain. Jahaz ke andar AC chul raha hota hai. Bijli bhi nahi jati. Waisay karachi train aur bus se bhi ja saktay hain. Jahaz mein aik waqt ka khana bhi milta hai. Jahaz mein mera dost Aslam bhi bheta tha. Woh bhi karachi ja raha tha. Lekin woh mela maweshyan dekhnay ja raha tha. Lekin mein chunkay sirf sabzikhoor charind houn toh lehaza indo-pak social mela dekhna hi munasib samjha. Mujhay jahaz ka safar bohot acha lagta hai. waisay I am an lahori.Recommend

  • http://abdulmajeedabid.blogspot.com Abdul

    @imaan.sheikh:
    Thank you Imaan. The way i wrote it, was not a rebuttal of what you said. The headline was not chosen by me. I wanted to write about even before your piece was published. I believe that we saw the event from different perspectives and did not agree on some issues, which is the beauty of democracy.

    @Rest of the Nay-sayers
    The discussion on class struggle was being done by a person who has done a P.hD on class structure of Pakistan, an acclaimed marxist film maker, a very learned member of Labour Party Pakistan, a Rutgers-educated lawyer and myself(the least distinguished of them all).

    @Kashif
    You might be a better writer than myself, why not send your essay for ET? Recommend

  • Ali

    Just realise the power and influence of $ , NFP spend his student life with Red NSF revolutioniries and Now enjoying Qawwalis and Dinners funded by US Consulate. Well done comrade NFP. BTW why US consulate is eager to hire the so called mummy dady bloggers?Recommend

  • Ayesha

    @imaan.sheikh and Abdul

    Guys please tell us at least something about the event apart from the names of the panelists and what they were wearing and what degrees they have.

    For example, how did the views of the extremely highly learned member of the Labour Party Pakistan about class struggle sit with the Indian leftists over there, considering that the Labour Party has made alliances with extreme right-wing parties such as JI in the past? Is the acclaimed and decorated marxist film-maker working on some film highlighting something terrible that we should be looking forward to?

    I mean come on guys, i’m desperate here. I’m pretty sure a lot of important things were said since a lot of supposedly important people with good ideas were there. You guys have taken upon yourselves to inform us about the event, now DO IT! Heck, even a good review of the qawwali would do. I wish I were in your place and had the time to wander into random shaadi halls or take a flight to strange metropolitan cities to do absolutely nothing.Recommend

  • Pretty Naughty

    @Nadeem Farooq Paracha

    You never wrote an article and blog without mention Maudoodi , JI and IJT and american fundings. Now what the Heck you were doing in this so called American consulate funded and selected bloggers event ?Recommend

  • Ulta

    Pointless, have read pieces by most of the names mentioned above aka ‘mentors’ most are either secular or anti Pakistan as I have read most and have had the (dis)pleasure of meeting a few. Recommend

  • Anticorruption

    The writer clearly had a lot of fun, but can he tell us something about the substance of the event? Dropping a bunch of names does not convey anythingRecommend

  • AmericanRes

    Hmmm, good to know that the U.S. consulate was spending my tax dollars flying twitaratis for the Kitty party from allover Pakistan and having them indulging at Awari! good going! this tlite is really clueless, isn’t it? Recommend

  • YM

    Also there is a typo or grammatical error, “an proud”Recommend

  • http://delhi amit

    @Ayesha.. well said, I read both the articles myself but did not find anything of substance.. i wonder if they have any links with video of the event?? or just text describing whole event. Anything in you tube.
    The articles here are more scratching the surface.Recommend

  • aaaaaaaaa

    this trend, of organizing events sponsored by us consulates and NGOs funded by USAID, discussing social issues like minority rights, women rights and such other social dilemmas of our society as if US is very keen to propagate the secularism and liberalism and humanism without its own interests funding the pampered new liberal community of pakistan. who has closed their eyes on massacre of people of pakistan in tribal areas and in afghanistan but are very much concerned about a one woman who was killed by her husband in a remote area of sindh (although ignoring the conditions behind such kind of cases).Recommend

  • http://goo.gl/49BfF nylakhan

    Events like such should be done , no doubt on that , but the thing is that we need to also make sure an event is not a waste of time but an important stuff is communicated with a little humor.
    As nobody has got extra time to be wasted, people want to know what they can do best for themselves and others, either by going NGO stuff, marketing their products online, building a way to guide young generation etc.
    link textRecommend

  • Ahmed HM

    I stopped reading where he tells us that Nadeem F Paracha was his mentor. Recommend