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Journeys in twitteristan
It was a reunion of sorts, as the makers of disembodied Twitter 'handles' were brought face-to-face with each other over two days in Karachi. The recently concluded Pakistan-India Social Media Mela drew on individuals making a mark by using social media networks to try and bridge the gulf between the two South Asian neighbours.
While the first edition of the Mela restricted itself to Pakistan, the second edition invited participants from across the border. The event's website identified the two-day event in July as a gathering of some of the finest minds in social media. Organised by Dawn, Pakistan's oldest English-language daily, the Mela focused on subjects as varied as public relations, peace, entrepreneurship, pop culture, politics, media, fundraising and education.
Even as diplomacy trundles along on roads pitted with landmines, on Twitter the stream of exchange continues uninterrupted. Faiza Sultan Khan's (aka ?@ BhopalHouse) tweets fly thick as she writes on a variety of subjects including the demise of Rajesh Khanna. The currently Lahorebased, but mostly 'based-out-of-my-laptop' editor/ columnist / book reviewer responded to the deaths of Hindi film luminaries with the following update: "And on to another ghastly day in a drab world without Shammi Kapoor, Dev Anand, and Rajesh Khanna. ?#NotGettingBetter"
While it's clear that the online community makes a significant case for dialogue, there's little doubt that there's room yet for this goodwill to spill into the offline. Sultan Khan explains, "Social media is great, but actual contact is something else, especially when given the chance to hear longer, detailed discussions and exchange more complex ideas. "
Mumbai-based Venkat Ananth (aka @venkatananth) writes extensively on cricket and concurs with his fellow speakers when he says, "Made complete sense to put faces to all those handles. "
While Sultan Khan "moderated a session on Twitter short stories and the possibilities of the v. v. v. short story as a genre", Ananth was on a panel which discussed social media and the enabling role it plays in the interactions between cricket fans from the neighbouring countries.
"I'm no social media expert but I do think it allows people to get started. At the Mela we chatted about a lot of things and not just cricket. It was nice to open up and converse, and if along the way, the Indian contingent helped dispel a few myths about Indians, then that's great, "adds Venkat.
In Karachi, Venkat's unexpected turn as a clairvoyant added excitement. At his panel discussion, the former student of international studies announced that bilateral cricketing ties between the two nations would resume soon. Last week, the BCCI agreed to play three ODIs and two T20 matches with the Pakistani squad to reinstate ties that were severed after the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks.
At least a few participants at the event were not natives, as it were, to either side of the Indo-Pak border. Originally from Australia, Jeremy Higgs has been living and working in Pakistan for the last four-and-a-half years. He is currently executive officer of the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP).
Higgs spoke about crowdfunding initiatives in his line of work. Much like his fellow participants, he too feels that initiatives such as the Mela bridge cultural gaps. When asked about the role social media plays in his line of work in Pakistan, Higgs responded, "We reach out to supporters through networking sites. Sadly, due to low comfort levels, we're not able to use them to interact with our peers in NGOs across Pakistan, but I hope this will change. On a personal level, these sites have been insanely useful in opening doors, finding contacts and meeting like-minded people. "
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