Poles apart - Chris Cork - Monday, July 26, 2010

Source : www.thenews.com.pk

Two events, one of which I attended in person and the other which I attended from the comfort of my own house, define the week. A hurried visit to a hot and sticky Islamabad and a meeting with fellow writers was a depressing experience at several levels. It is rare for me to meet other writers but this was a collection of famous names and faces, and an opportunity to share a few thoughts and ideas – except that there were very few ideas on offer, not many had thought about much that is worthy of repetition here and an awful lot of entrenched positions were on display. Mostly, I kept my mouth shut and listened – which is what you do if you are a member of a minority in Pakistan.

One conversation of a positive nature concerned a possible interview that I might give in the future about how I find it, living here in this desperately unsafe place among people some of whom would happily cut my throat. Apparently I am now one of the very few westerners living here ‘in the wild’ and as such have become an object of minor interest. My questioner wanted to know if I was frightened, if I was not able to travel, if the community I lived in were hostile to me. My reply was as usual – most of the country is safe to travel in, my local community seem not to give two hoots for me anymore and my greatest daily fear is getting crushed to death in a rickshaw pileup.

He looked a bit disappointed, my colleague.

Later in the week, exchanging perceptions of the evening with another colleague, they commented that I should not be so surprised, as the people I was meeting were products of the time and place. They were of the age, and the narrowness of the vision of some of them was more a function of how they were educated than any inherent flaw. Hope springs eternal, as they say.

Attending a second event in Islamabad on Friday was both frustrating and fulfilling. It was a conference on climate change, a subject I have a particular interest in. Had I been in Islamabad for real I would have attended but I had to make do with a video link, a Twitter feed and various messenger systems. Whilst at one level it was irritating to get good streaming visuals but poor sound quality – a problem with wi-fi in the hall where the conference was held – at another it was profoundly uplifting. Here was a group of people who had brought together some prestigious speakers who made interesting and thought-provoking presentations; and they were able to communicate the event to anybody in the entire world who had an internet connection.

Just think of it. Ten years ago there were a few thousand internet connections in Pakistan – today there are millions and growing fast.

It’s not all porn and sleaze, either. The conference I cyber-attended may not have been a triumph of production values but it was certainly a triumph of determination over adversity, of thinking out of the box.

The two events could not have been more different. On the one hand there was a group of mostly self-absorbed scribblers grumbling into their glasses of orange juice, many of them steplocked into a kind of narrow parochialism. (No, not all, and apologies to those who were otherwise.) On the other an event organised by bright innovators with a passion to communicate. The technology might have let them down but there was no failure of vision.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail.com

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