The South Asian Social Forum was everthing about India that I love and hate in one conference.
It was completely overwhelming. If you are ever to attend an ASF, here are some tips:
1. Keep walking. When you stop, even to sit for a moment and consult your schedule, you will be surrounded by male university students, snapping your photo, asking for your email address and interrogating you about globalization and neo-liberalism.
Even if you walk slowly or are engaged in conversation with someone else, passersby will get a look of urgency on their face, interrupt you, and say: "You are coming from which country?" or simply "which country, please?" You will also get a ASF burlap bag's worth of flyers and 10RS pamphlets each day on everything from Indigenous Farmer Trade Unionists to Dalit Feminists Seeking Solidarity against the Hypocricy in Education. Everyone will have an awesome cause. Everyone will be wearing it on their sleeve. They will communicate it to you with intensity and unwaverign eye-contact. This will happen several times an hour. You will need to lie down for a couple of hours and miss that lecture you wanted to see because you are unable to string together a sentence and you begin to feel dizzy. You will feel like you want to attend everything and nothing. You will remember you have not had a real day of chilling since you got to India.
1b) At ASF, speeches are long and love is short but sweet. You will secretly dub this Asian Social Mating Forum as everyone around you succumbs to mini-affairs in some hot NGO on NGO action.
2. Once you find the venue for your lecture (after getting misdirected by every rickshaw driver and student in the city while standing in the hot sun), you will be very tired. The lecture will sound like this: "This is bla bla bla from bla bla bla and she is here for the Asian Social Forum to tell us that another world is possible for blablablas seeking blablablas."
The panelist will speak about American Imperialism, religious fundamentalism, Iraqi sanctions, Nuclear threats, communal violence, caste and classism, and a million valid and important cases of oppression and the need for solidarity to combat them. Then someone will come up and speak in Hindi. You will go and buy a water after 10 minutes.
3. You will decide not to go back to the lecture when you meet some funky Fulbright Scholars. They will talk to you about India and their cool projects like working in Gujarat for self-employed women artisans or writing a surrealist novel while teaching in Hyderabad. One guy from Alabama just came out of the closet aftern an encounter with a Jaipurian in Delhi and is very hyper about it. You will go for beer with all of them and a Parsi poet who has put together an anthology of gay Indian writers. He will be a total queen who loves to dominate the conversation. One of the scholars will tell you she is hitting on you. It will be way-flattering. A few beers later, you will discover she knows Krista/Thea from the Twin-Oaks commune in Virginia. She even played with Jonah Raspberry. The world is a small place, made up of small encounters.
4. A 50-something member of some Andhra Pradesh former royal family will call you several times a day with offers of dinner, swims, and theatre. You will cough up a dumb excuse every time.
5.Every evening the main field at the college will open up a circle where people perform "street theatre". Many of them will be dalit drumming groups. The plays will be communist homilies with a villianous oppressor, good workers who are beaten, and one who rises up and is killed. His martyrdom inspires the workers to beat up the oppressor. Which they do. the crowd cheers. You will find the violent scenario unnerving but keep your cultural biases in check.
6.KK and Feroz and two men from Pakistan will get drunk with you and Sasha on rum. they will sing songs and tease the shit out of you. KK who loves to tell stories about his travels with the People's Science Network all across India will tell you about girl who learned to write and wrote a poem in telegu.
"I walk to work and the rice paddies are covered in dew
I write letters in the dew
In the afternoon, when the sun is high and there is sweat on my arms,
I write letters in the sweat
When I carry a containter of soil on my head and spill it on the ground
I write letters in the dirt."
7. You will take a morning off and climb the fort. At the top you will sit and notice the horizon for the first time in weeks. You will also take the best deep breath in ages and feel a marvelous sense of peace. Wherever you are, climb to the highest spot and put it all into perspective. That is the key, I think.