This is not about music and Michael Jackson -- whether black or white -- isn't exactly my favourite artiste, but entering the Don Bosco School in Matunga, Mumbai, on Wednesday evening did feel like stepping into a video by the crotch-grabbing star.
Remember the Black or White video, which literally presented 'morphing' to the world? It is a technique that has become fairly commonplace now, but back then [1991, I think] it was avant-garde -- a Latino face melted into the aquiline features of an Englishman, which then changed into an Oriental face, which again changed into a Black face, and so on.
That is what I thought of upon entering the school, where preparations are on for the Intercontinental Youth Camp 2004, a parallel event to the World Social Forum being held in Mumbai.
A banner outside proclaimed: 'Globalisation and Its Impact on the Young. Experiences in Alternate Paradigms'. If it were the title of a book, I can bet my two pennies that it would have rotted away in some library never to be read.
Just over the tip of the banner I saw a gaunt young man walking out. Ian Jacob, from Mauritius -- dark, bloodshot eyes and a revolutionary by admission. His aim is simple: to drive out the US from Diego Garcia, the Indian Ocean island in the Chagos archipelago that was used to bomb Iraq and Afghanistan.
He said, in halting English, that the "island is part of the Republic of Mauritius. It was stolen by the British in the mid-1960s and leased to the US".
He spoke, his eyes alive, for more than 20 minutes about how the US was 'scre**** up' the world, how the gap between the rich and poor was increasing, and how communism was the way forward. "Not Stalinism, but a communism mixed with democracy, where there is equality," he said.
Asked if communism and democracy could exist side-by-side, he said, "Sure, sure, it can."
Just over his shoulders there were stalls where participants were registering themselves. Ida and her three friends were among them. The high school girls from Norway were too young to expound on the finer points of communism. But they did know that capitalism was bad. After staying at the camp, which begins on January 16 and ends on 21, they will dive into Goa for a few days before heading back home.
Then there were Luciana and Olaya from Uruguay and Spain, respectively. The 20-something girls studied in Pune as teenagers and came to attend the camp so that they could give something back to India. Luciana's grouse was that the International Monetary Fund had ruined Latin American countries. As an anthropology student she also seemed enormously interested in George Bush. "I am here because of him!"
Of course, she also spoke to me a bit about South American revolutions (I failed miserably), Simon Bolivar (I politely enquired if he had liberated Uruguay as well. No, came the reply), and that titan among Latin American writers -- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I did well here!).
All of those coming, or at least most of them, are oddball characters, and that is what adds colour to the event. And most of them are hugely talented too, one can say.
Devavrata Sharma, who had come with a bunch of workers from Assam, planned to protest against ethnic violence in Assam and the exploitation of tea workers by companies.
"Bodo tribals are cleansing other communities. Pogroms are taking place there. Bodos have killed 20,000 people of other tribal communities," he said.
"Another problem is insurgency and terrorism. Nearly 10,000 young people of Assam were recruited by the ULFA and for the last 10 years or so they have been fighting for separation from India."
A pan-chewing gentleman sitting next to us interrupted our conversation a few times. Whenever he agreed with whatever Sharma was saying he nodded his head and said: "Oop course, oop course."
Right in front of us their colleagues were painting Assamese art on a huge canvas.
Shantana Sharma, their chief, was a school principal. A couple of hours later we were privileged to watch the ladies do the Jhumar -- an exquisite dance that is done to the beat of the nagera, dhool and the melody of harmonium.
Then there was Sanjeev Baghle, a paraplegic who painted so well you could be mistaken for thinking the work belonged to M F Husain.
All these fantastic people are among the nearly 7,500 who will attend the camp. Many of them like Devavrata, Shantana, Luciana and Olaya will stay at the school. For a nominal charge of Rs200, they have been given tents.
Jerrit, part of the media and communications committee, said the camp's aim is to bring people together. There will be food from all over the world, a separate ground for booze. No drugs, thank you very much!
He said students from many Mumbai colleges have either registered or are working as volunteers.
Janice Coutinho and Deblina Gupta -- BSc second-year students at Sophia College -- are two of the volunteers. They said they are not against globalisation, but against imperialistic globalisation. According to Janice, "It is the chance of a lifetime" to attend the event.
But though they have all been briefed very well, not all are pundits. Asked why she uses a Nokia phone when she is against globalisation, Janice said, "It is a gift. It is a gift." She then quickly put another person to take care of me and scooted.
But at the end of the day, all that does not matter. As an experience the event is truly kaleidoscopic. It is like a dream in which there are many rooms adjacent to each other. Open a door and a woman will say holla! Another room and a kid will say namaste; another and an Arab will greet you with a salaam; peep into the next room and you will hear a chirpy juley.
This is what makes the event truly special.
Plus there is that unmistakable buzz that comes when there are thousands of young men and women meeting at one place and sharing ideas, exchanging notes.
Debate, argue, laugh, shout and most importantly, protest, that is what is on offer.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh