The throbbing beat of drums, adivasi dances and soul-stirring performances by Pakistani rock band Junoon and South African dance troupe Siwela Sonke-- which means to cross over to a new place--ushered in the World Social Forum.
More than a lakh activists and delegates from across the world have converged in the northern suburb of Goregaon in Mumbai in a never ending stream, singing, dancing, shouting slogans, and holding colourful banners aloft. It was a joyous celebration, a carnival of the people.
The number of seminars, meetings, conferences and workshops exceeds a thousand, on topics ranging from globalisation, women's issues, the World Trade Organisation, the US occupation of Iraq, caste and racism, trade union rights, human rights, and AIDS, to name a few of them. Naturally, the people and organisations participating in these discussions are equally varied.
Consider a few: Christian Aid, Rainbow Planet, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, All-India People's Science Network, Amnesty International, and the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace.
They are all part of the "open platform to discuss strategies of resistance to the model for globalisation formulated by multinational corporations, governments, International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the WTO," as the WSF Charter says.
Who's left out? The evil multinationals, of course, although the WSF has no compunction in accepting donations from corporates or in inviting non-government organisations (NGOs) funded by corporate charity.
Strangely though, the naxalites are not coming, the Maoists fighting in Nepal are out, and Latin American and Filipino communist guerrillas are not welcome. Instead, the far left is organising its own bash across the road from the WSF, called Mumbai Resistance-2004.
Held at Porto Allegre in Brazil every year since 2001,this is the first time the WSF has moved out of Brazil. Mumbai was chosen because its pockets of affluence cheek-by-jowl with fetid slums make it the ideal place to show up the not-so-rosy side of "corporate-led globalisation", and also to extend the forum's influence in Asia.
This year, however, the glue that holds this "rainbow coalition" of radicals, Left-leaningliberals, and socialists together seems to be US President George W Bush and opposition to his occupation of Iraq, with banners exhorting visitors to "Kill Bush, the enemy" at the venue.
Althoughpolitical parties are taboo at the forum, it's pretty clear where their sympathies lie. The Communist Party of India has put up large hoardings at the entrance urging participants to "Join hands to make a Communist World possible," slightly different from the WSF's slogan "Another World is Possible."
It'snot all talk, though. As always, this year's WSF meet too will feature a pot-pourri of cultural events, such as street theatre, exhibitions, literary readings, art shows, and an international film festival. Performances will include Habib Tanvir's Ponga Pandit on communalism, Nobody's Body --billed as "the anti-imperialism dance programme" from Indonesia, and Mrinalini Sarabhai on the carnage in Gujarat.
Foreignluminaries who will be attending the meet include Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Shireen Ebadi, former UN Human Rights chief Mary Robinson, economist Samir Amin, and French farm union leader Jose Bove, best known for smashing up McDonald's outlets.
Representativesof the entire Indian Left will be present. While there's no mistaking the enthusiasm of the thousands of young people at the conference, the critical issue is to translate their undoubted fervour into mass support.
Atthe last WSF in Brazil, Arundhati Roy said, "another world is not only possible, she is on her way... if we listen very carefully, we can hear her breathing."
Inthe din and bustle of the Western Expressway outside the WSF venue, few people could hear that breathing.