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Salil Kumar |
January 22, 2004 23:08 IST
The number of people per square feet of land at Mumbai's World Social Forum must be one of the highest in the world.
The only comparison that comes to mind is Allahabad's Maha Kumbh Mela.
Sure, the numbers may not be the same, but standing in front of the media office I can only see people through the swirling dust.
It is quite funny standing there and observing everyone so dispassionately. The cacophony is great, and it is hard to distinguish noises, till someone starts drumming.
There are the rows and rows and rows of protesters -- from every corner of the globe -- carrying banners, posters, shouting slogans and generally having a merry time.
The destination is the main ground that the road leads to. Once there, the shouting reaches a crescendo and a big crowd of onlookers generally gathers.
Then, the leader of that particular group starts talking about its problems. Most of the time most of the problems are due to the same reasons -- globalisation, imperialism and America's desire to rule the world. Everyone listens, claps, and departs, till another group comes along and the whole process starts once again.
There is also another thing common to the WSF and the Kumbh Mela -- the khoya paya camps. Loudspeakers blare out the names of people who are lost, relatives or colleagues who are waiting for them, bags that have been misplaced. I hear an announcement that a foreigner has lost his passport, and 'will anyone who finds it please return it'?
The mind is funny. Even as it is trying to make sense of its surroundings, in the back of it pictures are being composed in accordance with what is being announced.
So, for example, if the announcer says 'Kate, you husband Allan is waiting for you at stall 2', the mind quickly creates a picture of Kate, and then of her husband, and then thinks if they are fat, or beautiful, or ugly, then it thinks of the clothes they wear, and of how they look together, and where they come from, what they do, what they eat. And even before that process is complete it jumps onto the kid Jeremy, who has been separated from his parents.
The WSF is a world within a world, and trying to call up someone outside is like trying to connect to Mars. Here is what happens: I take out my cell phone and punch the numbers. After what seems like a long delay the message on the green screen says the network is busy. Redial? Sure, and I try again, and the same message appears. It seems like everyone is trying to call up someone at the same time, and in the end what we have is a huge traffic jam.
The next option is to send an SMS. So I go to 'messages', click 'select', go to 'write messages', again click 'select' and start keying in an SMS.
Message composed. Great. Now it is time to send.
I press the button and wait for the confirmation that the SMS has reached the target.
After about ten minutes I go to my inbox only to see that the message is still sitting there, refusing to move its butt. 'Pending'.
Press conferences at the event are mostly boring affairs. Come to think of it, most of the press conferences are boring. At stall number 2, a delegation from Pakistan is talking about the need for more 'people-to-people' contact.
It is the kind of talk that can kill the love in any human being. I am sure most in the room share the feeling but, like me, are not saying anything out of politeness.
As I sit there I think of the commotion that I have left behind, and the antiseptic nature of the conference hall I am in.
Music Sans Boundaries
The definitive moment of the WSF comes as I leave the venue a couple of hours later. A man, with West Indian looks and great locks emerging from under his beret, is singing and playing a guitar; an Indian joins him with a dholak; a delegation from Madhya Pradesh starts clapping and a couple of girls from among them can't resist the temptation: they dance, and they dance with a joyous abandon, free of all encumbrances.
Soon a big crowd gathers and everyone starts clapping. It is a sight to remember.
And when they girls emerge from their trance they ask him his name. 'Eggo', he says. 'Hi, I am Sarika,' says one, flirtingly, in a faux accent, while extending her hand. 'Nice, nice,' he replies in awkward English.
'I am Sonia,' says the other.
WSF: The Complete Coverage