Monday 16 July 2012

Reflections from Pakistan India Social Media Mela 2012

(an abridged version published by Express Tribune Blogs on 16th July, 2012)

Question: What is the one common thing between a writer from Mumbai, a Journalist from Delhi, a famous film maker from India and a Junior doctor from Lahore?

Answer: The fact that all of them loved hearing Iqbal Bano(it was actually Meesha Shafi, as pointed out later by Jugal Mody) sing 'Dasht e Tanhai main' on the radio, at wee hours in the morning while waiting to get CNG at a gas station in Karachi. 

For me, that one moment captured the spirit of Pakistan India Social Media Mela 2012. No wonder the slogan of the event said, “Faasla Na Rakhen, Pyar ho Jaanay Dain’(Translation: Overcome distances, Let love happen)

Organized in Karachi by PeaceNiche, in collaboration with the United States Consulates in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, it was supposed to be a gathering of social media enthusiasts from India and Pakistan. This being Pakistan, the criticism leveled at the event started much before the event itself. It was an invite-only affair and most people who were invited were recommended by other people. Participants from Lahore and Islamabad were sponsored by U.S Consulates in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi for their travel and accommodation.

It was my first visit to Karachi and I was really excited by this opportunity. I boarded the plane from Lahore airport on the evening of 12th July, along with the rest of participants from Lahore. The visit was not only an opportunity to interact with new people but also to get a respite from the hectic schedule at the hospital. During the flight, I had a good, long chat with my seat mate whom I discovered to be a fellow participant. I got some flak after the plane landed, from assorted uncles who were unfortunate enough to have gotten seats around us. The first thing that I noticed after landing in Karachi was the wind. We were transported to Avari hotel and allotted rooms. When I reached my designated room, I had to pinch myself to judge if I was not dreaming. The rooms were spacious, comfortable and had attached baths separated by glass walls.

We were offered BBQ dinner at the top floor of the hotel. That was where we first met fellow participants from India including Onir, Karuna John, Jugal Mody, Venket Ananth, Sabbah Haji, Annie Zaidi, Raheel Khurshid and Sanjay Rajoura. I immediately struck cordial notes with one of them because of me being a vegetarian. Later, I took part in an interesting discussion about Marxism, Class Struggle and Pakistan Movement taking place at an adjacent table.

The next two days were one of the best that I've had.  Despite being an adopted Lahori, I didn't miss Lahore for a moment. I wouldn't have met many of favorite people at one place if I had not come to the mela, including Nadeem F Paracha (one of my mentors), Ali Chishti, Marvi Sirmed, Beena Sarwar, Mohsin Sayeed, Muhammed Hanif, Faiza S Khan, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Declan Walsh, Amir Mughal, Murtaza Solangi, Hassaan Belal a.k.a mighty, Sana Saleem, Ali Arqam, Zebunnisa Burki and the wonderful people from across the border. At the start of first day's session (around 9 a.m. which was an inconvenience for many people) Senator Rehman Malik, usually at the receiving end of mockery by social media people, was generously praised for urgent attention to the visa problems faced by guests from India.

The sessions were mostly insightful and informative but I personally enjoyed the off-session activities where I got the chance to interact with some amazing people.

Some of the memorable sessions dealt with online activism, role of social media in education sector, use of non-profit for non-profit organizations, online activism, Pakistan-India relations, ‘Slactivism’, impact of party politics on Social Media, Internet Censorship, Cyber-Bullying and Twitter as the new Newsroom. 
 I was a panelist at the session 'Fight Club:Rise of the Troll' alongside Bina Shah, who had come fully prepared with research, Mohsin Sayeed, star of our show and a delightful presence throughout the mela, Raza Rumi and Rab Nawaz, editor of the magazine Laaltain and member of Khudi Pakistan. Some sessions were, indeed, boring but that is how things work usually. Due to my involvment in the recent doctors' strikes, I had plenty of questions to answer. I was branded 'the revolutionary doctor' by Sher Ali, an Express Tribune reporter and 'Hartaali doctor' was my nick name. After the first day, the event was declared open to everybody because of the quips about elitism and exclusion.

There was a Qawalli session after first days’ proceedings and it featured Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad, the best Qawwals in Asia. They enthralled the crowd with their renditions from Sufi poetry.
There was a standup comedy act on the second day by Sanjay Rajoura and he left the audience rolling on the ground with his observational comedy about Facebook albums, Indian Cricket and some social peculiarities. He received a standing ovation at the end.

Contrary to popular expectations, the event did NOT offer a solution to the Kashmir Problem, brought an end to killing of Shias and Hazaras in Pakistan, decreased the level of radicalism in Pakistan or ended the hostility between Pakistan and India. Kashmir was mentioned, but only as a barter for Coke Studio by Sanjay in his stand up act. The issue of persecution of minorities was discussed in detail and panelists included members from Ahmedi, Hazara and Christian communities. It was a social media event, not a Track 2 diplomat meeting. There were many Hazara participants there as well, which was encouraging. It was not a kitty party and for the record, only two women were actually wearing Sari(Even if they were, Whats wrong with that?), so over-generalizations have to be avoided.

 It was a unique coming together of people who know each other mostly by twitter names and such events should take place at least once a year. It was a tremendous effort by Sabeen Mahmood and her team at PeaceNiche, and I would like to thank and congratulate the team at PeaceNiche and the U.S Consulate staff for their co-operation and hospitality. I would also thank my new friends from Karachi and India, for their love and company. I left the event with a heavy heart, new friends and acquaintances and countless good memories.  

A big shout out to my new friends
Faizan Lakhani, FurSid, Aroosa Shaukat, Sheru, Tuba, Shiraz Hassan, Osama, Faheem(@smokenfog), Yasser Latif Hamdani, Shahab(@UncleFu), Rab Nawaz, Sara Muzzammil,  Awais Aftab, Bilal Tanweer, Salman Lateef and Zeeshan Haider. 


  1. Hi!

    I really enjoyed reading about your experience in the Indo Pak Social Media Mela. We need more of such events to happen where the youth of both the countries can participate and contribute to a better tomorrow.

    All the very best!


  2. i really impress your article good post dear

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