[Reader-list] Report on the TML at Sarai

Monica Narula monica at sarai.net
Fri Dec 6 14:53:49 IST 2002

Dear All

Below is a report of the Tactical Media Lab at Sarai which was held 
on the 14, 15 16 of November. Feedback welcome. Also available online 
at www.sarai.net/events.htm


Tactical Media Lab @ Sarai

On November 14 - 16, 2002, Sarai hosted the South Asian Tactical 
Media Lab (TML), one of a chain of such events, that are taking place 
in different parts of the world (Amsterdam, Barcelona, Cluj, New 
York, Delhi and Sydney) as a run-up to the fourth Next 5 Minutes 
Conference (N5M4) in Amsterdam in 2003.

Over three hectic days free software enthusiasts, programmers, 
graphic designers, filmmakers, artists, activists, members of NGOs, 
telecommunications experts, students and media practitioners from 
Mumbai, Dehradun, Kolkata, Dacca, Kathmandu, Tehran & Delhi shared 
ideas, experiences, problems and grievances, explored varied uses of 
tactical media, discussed strategies, designed posters and websites, 
disbanded opinions and formed new ones through panel discussions, 
presentations, installations, workshops and a film screening.

The event lent itself naturally to the crystallization of a loose 
coalition of tactical media enthusiasts in the Asian region. From the 
very begining it was positioned as being a 'process' in the course of 
which the participants would uncover the energies of a network ... 
after three days this network was brimming with ideas of many 
possible collaborations to counter everyday local situations. We hope 
to sustain these energies in the months to come.

Day 1 of the Tactical Media Lab at Sarai, November 14, 2002

The first day began with a very well attended public conversation 
between Shuddhabrata Sengupta from Sarai and the TML's "Mystery 
Guest" - David Barsamian. David Barsamian , the founder and director 
of Alternative Radio,
an independent, award-winning, weekly radio program produced in 
Boulder, Colorado, is well known in Delhi through the publications of 
his interviews with Noam Chomsky, Edward Said and Eqbal Ahmed.

Barsamian, who happened to be visiting Delhi at the time was invited 
by Sarai to open the Tactical Media Lab, which he did with a very 
inspiring invocation to media activists to be positive, energetic, 
creative and humorous and not turn into moaners with dwindling 

The conversation with him led to a very lively discussion in which 
the question of "free speech", particularly in conflict ridden 
societies like South Asia's was actively discussed. The TML got off 
to a very active and lively start as a result of this and
through the next few days the importance of free expression, new ways 
of reaching the public domain and the necessity to be inventive and 
creative recurred several times in the conversations and 

The afternoon of the first day featured presentations by the people 
at Sarai working on the Cybermohalla (Cyber Neighbourhood) Project.

Shveta Sarda, Ruchika Negi, Joy Chatterjee and Ashish Mahajan from 
Sarai, with Azra Tabassum from the LNJP colony Cybermohalla 
Compughar, talked about the processes involved in setting up digital 
media labs using free software in the LNJP squatter settlement and 
the Ambedkar Nagar Resettlement Colony in Delhi.
Issues of access, technological flexibility, creativity and different 
ways of looking at the city were discussed. Shveta presented some of 
the work done by the Cybermohalla project, Joy and Ashish spoke of 
the software and hardware configurations involved in operationalizing 
each lab, Ruchika read from the journal that she is keeping of her 
interactions with people on the street, and Azra spoke of how the 
process works to steadily remove layers of fear in terms of her 
engagement with the urban environment.

Following this, Pradip Saha, Managing Editor Down to Earth magazine, 
spoke briefly about using humour and  subversive fun as an essential 
element in designing an effective communication strategy by activists

This intervention was followed by  a panel composed of Shekhar 
Krishan, PUKAR , along with Sanjay Bhangar from Indymedia, Mumbai; 
Arun Mehta, telecommunications engineer and Internet activist; Partha 
Sarkar of the
Bytesforall Network, from Dhaka, and Shilpa Gupta, from the Open 
Circle Artists' Collective in Mumbai.

Each presentation featured candid discussions on the possibilities 
and limitations of media activism in South Asia. While the panelists 
were often of the opinion that, barring very specialist fora, online 
discussion lists have not taken off as expected in South Asia, they 
emphasized the need to develop effective communication strategies 
that engaged with public concerns in a demonstrably public manner.

The Indymedia Mumbai group spoke of their efforts to involve 
communication students in the university to develop an effective web 
presence, especially in the context of online actions commemorating 
the anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster of 1984, in tandem with the 
World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, earlier this 
year. Arun Mehta spoke of the feasibility of low-cost and low-tech 
strategies for radio as a tool for building sustainable, community 
controlled communications networks in the rural areas of Orissa in 
Eastern India. Gaurab Upadhyay from Bytesforall, Kathmandu, 
intervened with his experience of alternate radio networks in Nepal 
and discussions revolved around how to use the technology, and 
available networks, to suit urban conditions.

Partha Sarkar spoke about the experience of building the Bytesforall 
network, which he initiated from Dhaka, together with Fredrick 
Noronha, who is based in India. Bytesforall has now grown into a 
pro-active South Asia wide network for people interested in the 
social usage of information and communication technologies. He led us 
through the evolution of Bytesforall as an online forum where 
technicians, activists, and people interested in the issues of 
development network and brainstorm together. He also pointed out how 
discussions on Bytesforall have, by being focused on concrete and 
practical issues, and by discussing all matters in a spirit of 
knowledge-sharing as peers, have so far managed to transcend the 
fractious 'political' barriers that exist in South Asia.

Shilpa Gupta from the Open Circle collective talked of public art 
intervention experiments that she and some members of her group have 
been involved in, especially the Aar Paar Projects that brought 
together artists from India and Pakistan for exchanges of portable 
art objects and posters which were then exhibited in tea stalls, 
grocery stores, and other public spaces. She also spoke about the 
another artist-led initiative called "The Reclaim Your Freedom Week" 
earlier this year in response to, and in protest against, the 
violence in Gujarat in March 2002.

The discussions that followed the presentations focused on the need 
for creating an active discursive community of artists, practitioners 
and others that could step out of the "responding to events" syndrome 
that seems to characterize much of artist/practitioner inspired 
activism, in order to move towards more sustained forms of 
public-practitioner interfaces that draw on the energies of everyday 
forms of resistance and communication. Event-centred protests, often 
take on a "token" character, even as they sap the energies of the 
artists/practitioners/activists who get involved, and also lead to 
hierarchies of people who "deliver a message" as opposed to people 
who passively "receive a message".

Day 2 of the Tactical Media Lab at Sarai, November 15, 2002

The second day was devoted to Free Software. The morning session 
started with a general presentation on Linux, its ideas and practices 
by Kishore Bhargava from Linux Users Group, Delhi. This was followed 
by a presentation of Knopik and LAP (Linux Access Project) by Supreet 
Sethi from Sarai.

A lot of pertinent issues and queries were raised on the 
implementation, usage and the philosophy of the projects. Arun Mehta 
from www.radiophony.com demonstrated the software that has been 
developed for Stephen Hawkings 
(http://indataportal.com/software/hawking.htm)which was written in 
visual basic and he made a public request to the audience to render 
the same on a Free Software platform.

The second half of the day concentrated on the localization efforts 
within the Free Software /Open Source platform. Ravikant, from the 
language programme of Sarai, briefed the audience about the problems 
non-English users face - related to fonts, encoding standards, 
keyboards and web design. Gaurab Upadhyay (bytesforall, Kathmandu) 
and Arash Zaini from Linux Iran, talked of the progress being made in 
localising Nepali and Persian respectively. Gaurab discussed the 
differences between Nepali Devanagari and Hindi Devanagari and was of 
the opinion that Unicode is so far the best available solution. From 
the audience Niyam Bhushan clarified certain basic issue about fonts, 
glyphs and typefaces. But the presentation that truly inspired 
everyone was Arash Zaini's who has recently translated the KDE 
desktop in Persian. (KDE is a Linux-based-programme package that 
provides efficient mail handler, calendars and organisers apart from 
the usual functions for browsing, editing, word processing, graphics 
and games). After interactions we realised that with only slight 
modifications the same desktop can be used for writing in Urdu as 
well. Arash then took us inside KDE and showed how effortlessly and 
flawlessly each of the applications worked. It was a revelation to 
learn that only four people could create this in just four months. He 
also fielded questions on the whole idea and process of translation 
and the public reception of the package.

The concluding panel of the day was an open discussion on 
'Collaborations and Contributions: Practitioners and Users in the 
Free Software Movement - the making of a creative community'. This 
discussion, attended by Raju Mathur, Leo Fernandes, Kishore Bhargava 
and others from the Linux Users Group, Delhi; Sharad Kukreti from 
Dehradun, Trevor Warren from Media Lab Asia, Mumbai, and other 
participants, focused on issues of freedom and programming culture 
and aroused strong reactions from both Free Software practitioners 
and others in the audience. Critical debates in the international 
Free Software/Open Source community were reiterated in local 
contexts.. debates that were mirrored in the film, 'The Code: Story 
of Linux', that was screened at the end of the day.

Day 3 of the Tactical Media Lab at Sarai, November 16, 2002

The third day of the Tactical Media Lab began with a session 
moderated by Ravi Sundaram from Sarai on "ICT and Civil Society: Can 
we think beyond the Development Paradigm". The participants in this 
discussion were Leo Fernandes of the Free Software Foundation 
(India), Trevor Warren (MIT Media Lab, Asia), Gaurab Upadhyay 
(Telecom activist, Kathmandu), Arun Mehta (Telecom Activist, Delhi), 
Jeebesh Bagchi (Sarai) and Shekhar Krishnan (PUKAR, Bombay)

The discussion focused on the problems of limiting software 
interventions within a social frame strictly  of "instrumental" and 
"developmental" paradigms. This was based on a critique of the notion 
of "development" itself, and how it often perpetuated top-down models 
of social processes.

The second session of the day was a presentation by Shaina Anand of 
her Tellavision Project and the allied Chitrakarkhana.net website. 
This project aims to document social and political processes in 
Bombay, post September 11.

She showed footage from her film in progress and made a presentation 
of the website and hopes to tie in responses from the film viewing 
process on to the interactive parts of her website.

The discussion focused on what needs to be done to create a language 
of image-making and viewing that ties into everyday concerns of young 
people in a way that reflects their lives and conditions, rather than 
reproduce a "political" rhetoric that might serve also to alienate 
and distance large numbers of people, while speaking only to the 

The final session of the day was a round table on the need for a 
network of new media networks in Asia. The participants from Iran, 
Bangladesh, Nepal and various parts of India, spoke of the need to 
carry the energies that they had discovered through their meetings 
into the future. Plans were made to set up a Tactical Media Asia 
discussion list hosted by Sarai, and everyone was keen to initiate a 
cluster of collaborative processes, like for instance a free software 
desktop in the Urdu language as a concrete instance of collaboration 
between people at Sarai and the LinuxIran group.

The TML ended on a very positive note, with people taking away many 
ideas for future collaborations, and everyone agreed on making a 
strong Asian representation and platform at the next Next 5 Minutes !


Cybermohalla Workshops:
Leading up to the TML a series of workshops were conducted at the 
Cybermohalla labs in the working class settlements of LNJP basti, 
Central Delhi and at Dakshinpuri, South Delhi).

Workshop 01
November 1 & 2, 2002
Furthering the Cybermohalla experience of writing the city, this 
workshop explored the insider/outsider binary, problematising it 
through the sharing of daily encounters within the neighbourhood and 
outside it, through life stories, stories about migration, work and 
labour in the city, narratives of meeting spaces within the basti, of 
contested spaces, the production of criminality. The primary forms 
were writing and conversation.

Workshop 02
November 8 & 9, 2002
This was a fun, hands-on workshop with reels of paper, transparency 
sheets, colour pens, crayons, scissors, pictures and glue, to produce 
a wall magazine. Over twenty enthusiastic participants spent two days 
writing, cutting and pasting material, working on their own and each 
others' work. The theme for the wall magazine was 'water' - daily 
routine around it, the material objects, related with it and 
conversations around community taps. The idea was to explore forms 
that would allow for a playful text-image relation and collaborative 
work to create content for a common output, through the concepts of 
hypertext and hyperlinking employed in print publications.
Emphasis was also on the design elements used to produce a 
publication that would be reproducible through photocopying.

The content generated in the two workshops, along with other forms 
that have been explored in Cybermohalla (mails, diary entries, 
ethnographic notes, notes on conversations at the labs) was compiled 
and circulated among visitors at the TML as a photocopied 
publication, Cybermohalla Notebook 01.

Print & Web Design Workshop
November 14-16, 2002
The workshop, held on all three days of the TML, was conducted by 
Pradeep Saha, Managing Editor Down to Earth  magazine and Mrityunjoy 
Chatterjee from the Sarai Media Lab.

It was held at Sarai Public Access Zone using free software tools 
like Open Office [text, vector image design & HTML editor], Gimp 
[raster image editor] & Scribus [publishing layout software].

The workshop started with an introduction to Tactical Media and 
different approaches to it. The fourteen participants - students, 
filmmakers and activists - were shown flyers and broadsheets as 
examples of tactical media and were introduced to varied print design 
strategies and to web technology. After this the participants were 
split into two groups and asked to design a campaign that could be 
put to use outside the workshop area. As most of them were from the 
Delhi University they chose to work on issues that are of immediate 
concern to the student community - Sexual Harrassment & Communal 

Throughout the workshop participants discussed ideas and strategies 
and on the final day Shuddhabrata Sengupta talked briefly on visual 
rhetoric and other tactical principles.

At the end of three days each group designed a website and a print 
campaign. People from both groups presented their work, describing 
them and their experience in detail to all those who had assembled 
for the TML.

The first group designed a poster campaign on 'Sexual Harrassment in 
the City' while the second adopted a satirical position on communal 
violence - 'How to Orchestrate Riots'. The websites were extensions 
of the same ideas with more links and images.

The works were warmly appreciated. The participants too enjoyed the 
process of making creative use of low-cost, easily available 
materials and designing tools. Many of them were already making 
posters for their campaigns, and the workshop opened up a wide range 
of ideas and strategies and helped them to put these in perspective.


There were three installations(Video/sound, Flash/sound, HTML) 
playing all through the Tactical Media Lab at the Sarai Interface 
Zone giving visitors a virtual spatial sense of the city.

The works originated from the idea of quintessentially focussing on a 
sound piece, i.e to make a psycho-geographic scape of various kinds 
of urban networks, right from electronic communication portals like 
the telephony networks,  internet cafes and call centers to more 
physical networks like transport portals in Delhi, which would 
include public transport portals like the Inter State Bus Terminus 
and the railway station.  The idea was to make textural sound 
recordings at these sites and then develop a panoramic navigational 
sound scape of several of these co-ordinates in a non-linear pattern.

Installation 1. Traffic media: Modem Telephone Line Parenthesis
by Dylan Volkhardt, independent media artist in residence at the 
Sarai Media Lab
The installation was an attempt to look at the (dis)location between 
the liquid architecture (the sound scape) of the telephone 
communication network and the physical aspects of labour and cabling.

The video was shot  just outside the CSDS where some cable work was 
in progress. The installation, work on which finished just the day 
before the TML, consisted of three  15" TV screens playing a video 
loop at  different speeds. The sound track was a long loop playing in 
the background all through the day, of locational sounds recorded at 
PCO booths and call centres and worked on in the Sarai Media Lab.

Installation 2. Traffic media: Platform no 12
by Renu Iyer, Sarai Media Lab
This was a 2 minute audio/video scape  playing as a continuous loop 
on a computer screen.  The video was a 4 box per frame flash movie, 
shot at the New Delhi Railway Station.

The idea was to look at the Railway Station as an urban navigational 
spatial network, and attempted to highlight our collective memories 
of our fragmented everyday recordings of these sites. The soundscape 
was a layered piece of recordings made at the Station, with ambient 
sounds and conversations with travellers. Visitors could listen to 
the soundtrack with headphones.

Regulars at the Sarai café, cast curious, at times even perplexed, 
glances at the screen playing in the background and then went over to 
engage with the works.

Installation 3. Dilliwale Kaun? Baharwale Kaun?
A web installation
by Syeda Farhana Zaman and Mrityunjoy Chatterjee
This is an HTML web installation of hyper-linked images and texts, 
looking at the migrant communities in Delhi. The work is based on 
photographic documentation  and conversations with emigrants living 
in slums and in shrines in Delhi. It explores issues of citizenship, 
of migration and of related harrassments and hardships faced by the 
many Bangladeshi migrants on the streets of Delhi. Mrityunjoy 
Chatterjee, from the Sarai Media Lab, helped Farhana convert 
photographs and texts to build web-based narratives of the experience 
of being an outsider.

The installation was available on a computer screen, as was the Sarai 
digital Interface which is always available on the local network at 
the Sarai Interface Zone.

Posters were also put up - made from photographs taken at the Delhi 
Metro construction sites and  cyber cafes.

Installation 4. Weather Report
by Rustam Vania, Centre for Science & Environment, Delhi
The installation which takes a satirical look at the politics of 
Climate Change was made for the World Climate Change Conference held 
in Delhi in October 2002.
The panels were put up all over Sarai and the CSDS.

Monica Narula
Sarai:The New Media Initiative
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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