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After the shock of Mumbai!

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Viva Mumbai!

I went to Mumbai on 26th December to get a feel of what things were like. I spent the whole day in a taxi, as distances are enormous in the city. Of course, Mumbai is not a very pretty city.

The road traffic is hectic, although quite orderly. By the end of the day, I got a mild headache because of the pollution. I guess most of the big ’third world’ cities in the world are like Mumbai: full of dust, dirt and pollution. What is very touching in the city are the millions of poor living in the slums in very restricted spaces, living in corrugated iron huts. Although life is very hard one gets a sense of vitality, energy and joy. The human spirit here is so full of hope despite great difficulties. In that sense, it is good that the WSF is being held here: to tell us that another world is possible.

RSCD is a good hour and forty-five minutes away from the airport. But I was so glad to go there and meet our courageous friends helping the Alliance. I had lunch with Rajesh, Bhim, Yogesh, Anthony and other friends. We discussed all the details of the Alliance participation at WSF. It was a good discussion and RSCD is doing a great job.

Of course, the anxieties are big as well. Even now we do not know the partners with whom we will have to share our event with. The dates have been mentioned, but not the time. This makes it difficult to fix speakers. Besides there may be Alliance events happening on the same day and at the same time. For example, the inter-religious, media and charter are all fixed for the 18th. I only hope that they do not happen at the same time! Anyway, these are all the problems of organizing a very large meeting.

From RSCD I traveled to the venue of the WSF accompanied by Yogesh. It’s a big campus, and what is nice is that it has a lot of trees. The main old factory structure can easily take in 50,000 people at least. Work has now started to put up various tents and other meeting places.

I then went to the hall where we are meeting on the 15th. It is located in a tree-filled Christian campus. The room itself is like a regular hall with a raised stage. We must find some way of arranging the hall. If the speakers all sit on the raised stage it will be very, very formal. That is something that needs attention before the meeting of the 15th.

After that, Yogesh and I visited the Intercontinental hotel where we are going to stay. It is an extremely luxurious hotel in the context of Mumbai. But there was no other choice, I gather, as it was impossible to find sixty rooms all together in a smaller hotel. We have to stay here, given the difficulty of finding more modest hotel accommodation during the WSF. Well, Mumbai is also a city with lots of money, and the hotel will give us a glimpse of another India, where the rich have a lifestyle that is very distanced from the poor. But this is again the challenge before us: "Another world is possible!"

Mumbai is a city which has a lot of business going. It is a city where everybody travels long distances in crowded trains and buses. People in the city are warm and friendly, but like every big city, Mumbai has its share of pick-pockets and confidence tricksters. Although Mumbai is the center of Bollywood (the world’s largest film industry), there may still be a few people who object to ’improper dressing’. So it may be good for Allies to wear clothes which are proper, and do not invite comments.

I think we must go to the WSF with a lot of hope. We may not have the best organizational facilities, and we may or may not be completely successful with our Alliance events (for reasons beyond our control), but we will be overwhelmed and overjoyed with the experience. I am convinced that despite the organizational delays in the WSF-India group, they will finally lay out a great and meaningful show.

Mumbai will be very different from Porto Alegre. The food will be different, the facilities not as good, the crowds will be enormous, the clothes and cultural life different, etc., etc. But, to use an expression of a popular Hindi Film, "the Indian heart will be warm and welcoming!"


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