[Reader-list] WSF - another report is possible!

ravikant ravikant at sarai.net
Thu Jan 29 18:01:42 IST 2004

The media - both the print and the audio-visual - has either outrightly 
trashed the WSF 04 or has raised very fundamental ethical and political 
questions about what in their version looks like a pointless jumboree of 
anti-globalisation groups from God knows where. Even those who were willing 
to write positive things about WSF focused either on the sensational or the 
iconic. The skeptics of course wondered aloud whether we managed to make 
another world in the week's time!

Thankfully, I was there. So I have another view of what was going on at WSF. 

Yes, I was there but I don't think any one person or even a few people can 
give you a full sense of what was happening when a whole sea of humanity  
tried to make itself heard. I will try and present a few word-sketches and 
some fragments. At the outset, I feel like congratulating the organisers who 
efficiently managed a very impressive show wothout crying hoarse from the 
microphones. ot without guiding traffic. After the morning of the second 
day's chaos about the non-availabilty of printed programs, it was all smooth 
and clean. The toilets, the foodstalls, the panels were all set and running 
after a few initial hiccups -  when people were still trying to figure out 
what was happening at what place and could not make to the stipulated venues 
at the right time. I think the organisers relied too much and and too soon on 
the geographical intelligence of the visitors. In retrospect, this made for a 
very unobtrusive 'wrok environment'. To give you one small example, everytime 
the tubelight or the fan( it was really stuffy!) went off when somebody shook 
the stall wall, we would find a mechanic within five mnutes! The loos were 
kept sparkling clean, the food was cheap, non-spicey and diverse. One 
alternative shop was selling 'kokam-NOT-COKE' for five rupees.

 Starting with the first, when the Pakistani sufi band Junoon had everyone of 
the 50, 000-strong crowd in thrall, every evening was marked by screenings of 
films or plays or song-and dance performances. In fact, some of the more 
famous shows( a Brazilian band and one African group) spilled over into the 
city whose night life is amazing by Delhi's austere and conservative 
standards. It is also equally remarkable that the city absorbed the huge 
crowd without straining its public and private resources. A much smaller 
rally in Delhi would have resulted in endless traffic jams and general public 
outcry of gruesome violation by unwanted non-city elements. I don't think we 
heard even a murmur of protest. In fact, if the conversations one had with 
the autowallas are any index, the city appeared quite obliviuos of such a 
major event. The autowallas of course sensed quick business opportunity and 
flocked in large numbers to the Nesco ground in Goregaon, which was very 
convenient. The entry to the venue was also easy - there were at least 60 
counters for registration. Anybody could buy a 5-rupee coupon and get in. So 
one could not see any unmanageble Qs getting formed, which is what one is 
used to at Delhi's Pragati Maidan book fair or trade fair. 

What was it like being inside? Frankly, it was quite overwhelming and it was 
impossible not to loose focus. What do you when you have to watch an endless 
stream of protest marches through the main throughfares? Protest marches from 
various parts of the world - forming into small bands, singing, dancing or 
blowing strange bugles, or beating a variety of drums, marches with half a km 
long banners, or with 20-feet high stilt-walkers, marches distributing 
multicoloured pamphlets. The entire ground and the poles and trees was 
festooned with posters of innumerable intent, design, content, size and 
colour. Some were pre-made and some were cooked on and for the occasion. In 
fact you could scarcely find space for your own poster if you had missed the 
first day. And civilised people do not tear off somebody else's poster to 
make room for their own. But the way out was distributing handouts - about 
your movement, about the issues that bother you, any information about your 
panel, event or stall that you wish to share with you don't want to know whom 
but you know that that somebody will be interested. 

As you could expect, it was a multilingual space - people wanting to get heard 
had translated their stuff into English, and people who could not understand 
English had made their own arrangements, like this very efficient Korean 
group which was seen herding together adjacent to a venue, listening to 
simultaneous translation and radio transmission, as eagerly and seriously as 
some of us did in those cricket's radio commentary days. People were there  
to express solidarity, to collect and give information, to buy and sell 
books, to talk and to listen, of course.  But they were also there to just be 
there and to feel a certain thereness. So, beyond a point language was a 
non-issue. One could hear peer-to-peer announcements, but also one-to-all 
announcements - in various languages. And that to me was the strength and 
beauty of such a gathering. The WSF was multitudinous and contradictory. Only 
hegemonistic designs insist on slavish agreements. Here people amply 
demonstrated that it was possible to disagree and yet inhabit the same civic 
and political space. Like the filmmaker who was collecting signatures against 
the organisers who did/could not a screening of his film on Gujarat. I saw 
that he found whole lot of willing signatories. 

On the basis of all this one can say that while mainstream Indian, national 
media misreported the event, the Mumbai Resistance group miscalculated its 
scope. It could very well have protested against WSF from within and could 
have hoped to have got heard more! 

That's it readers for now. Thanks for your patience. I hope to write more in 
coming days. Comments, reflections and  add-ons are most welcome. 




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