“Barkha are you there … Barkha can you hear me?”
Prominent NDTV journalist Barkha Dutt never actually made it to Karachi to give her keynote speech at the ‘Pakistan-India Social Media Mela’. Despite her absence, she certainly drove the point home about the perils of social media.
The ‘surprise’ to make up for Dutt’s absence was that she would address it through Skype. But it soon turned into a nightmare when a minute into the interaction with her, the audio started breaking up. After trying to decipher her words and playing the ‘fill in the blanks’ game for another minute, Beena Sarwar decided to end everyone’s misery and give it another shot after a short interval.
Interestingly, the organisers found the time to cut the government some slack – twice within a span of 30 minutes. Rehman Malik was given an honorary mention and applauded for pulling off a last-minute magic trick to get the paperwork and visas ready to go for the Indian delegates, while a few minutes later our national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines was also given a shout out for being the only South Asian airline that services all capitals in the region.
But the agony didn’t look like it was about to end for the organisers or the attendees. In an effort to break the ice and kick things off, minus US Consul General William Martin’s short and candid introduction to the event, the Indian participants were asked to come on stage and offer brief introductions.
The handful of Indians who did catch a flight may not have been frustrated with the usual delays, but they must have brooded over whether they were attending a visa regime change conference between the arch-rivals or a Social Media Mela.
Nevertheless, the introductions were amusing to say the least. One of the introductions went something along the lines: “I’m Sanjay … I don’t work”. The same Sanjay later went on to disclose his mundane conversation with journalist Mohsin Sayeed about a show he wanted to start, called “What’s with Indian women?”
Still, Mumbai columnist Venkat Ananth took the cake cake when, unintentionally it seemed, he decided to divulge into the details of how long it took to travel from Mumbai to Karachi by boat – eight hours just in case you were wondering. It all made sense now: the visa regime, the Mumbai attacks, Rehman Malik and PIA – the biggest obstacles and promoters of social media interaction between India and Pakistan.
‘Have we got Barkha back?’
When the Skype conversation with Dutt finally resumed – the only thing that was brought to the forefront were the trials and tribulations faced by the everyday Pakistani internet user. After yet another botched attempt, Dutt got back to Tweeting and the Social Media Mela was able to pick up the pieces and carry on with the show.
Beena Sarwar, who somehow managed to decipher the gist of Dutt’s broken message, ‘basically’ gathered that social media had broken barriers in connecting people across the border.
If anything, the promise of social media is evident: connectivity – depending on your internet service provider. But the peril has to be the lack of uniformity in organisation and action, specifically when it comes down to the two arch-rivals.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2012.
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