Sarai The New Media
Initiative, Delhi - a personal impression
My journey to Sarai began in Toronto on the corner of Bloor
and Yonge. While waiting for my tourist visa, I experienced more than
a hint of all the colours, sounds, tumult and seeming pandemonium to be
shortly encountered on another continent thousands of miles away. Nonetheless,
the buzzing, contemporary, yet historically aware Sarai centre, situated
in the vibrant chaos of Delhi, presented surprising revelations.
The word Sarai means a traveler's shelter, a place of refuge, a habitat
in several Asian languages. The Sarai program intends to create such a
reflective yet critical space for old and new media theorists, activists
and practicioners. Sarai, India's first public access space in new media
is an independent yet closely linked program of the well established (1964)
Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) in Delhi. CSDS generously
provided space for Sarai in their building. A collaborative effort transformed
this raw, ground floor space into a cool and tasteful setting for a public
media lab, offices, library and a cafe. The lively cafe, -serving great
cappuccinos-, was designed by a history professor from a nearby university
and is operated by a youthful crew under his supervision. This cafe is
a plain, non-technological but eminent example of the diverse collaborations
Sarai's new media initiative, true to its name, is focused on a public
domain for media research and practice. The concept took shape in 1998
and the project was realized over the last two years by the nine "fellows"
of the organization. Each and every member of Sarai merits a comprehensive
introduction, alas this initiation as well as a detailed description of
the important collaborations with international activists and media practitioners
is beyond the scope of this short report. For interested parties, detailed
information is available both on the Sarai website and in the Sarai Reader.
Most Sarai projects are deeply rooted in local culture and include: Ethnographies
of the New Media; Mapping the City, Film and Consciousness; Language and
the New Media: The Hindi Language Project and Social Justice and the City.
Through its research program, Sarai intends to create a visual and aural
archive of urban life - most of which will be accessible on-line. Sarai's
Garage: Free Software Project is unique! Developed by the programming
team (enthusiastic, very capable young hackers still in their teens) -
Sarai utilizes GNU/Linux operating systems using a significant amount
of open source software.
The Sarai Reader 01, an informative compilation of local and international
texts, co-edited by Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Nerula,
Shudhabrata Sengupta) together with Geert Lovink, was launched at the
opening of the Center. "The Sarai Reader ... can be seen both as a navigation
log of actual voyages and a map for possible journeys into a real and
imagined territory that we provisionally called the "Public Domain" wrote
Shuddha and Geert and concluded their introductory text with "Now we are
an open space, eager for travelers. Welcome."
iThis welcoming spirit
was evident throughout my Delhi days. The Sarai opening including the
Public Domain conference, fully illustrated the interdisciplinary aims
of the organization, bringing together scholars, activists, journalists,
students, hackers, film theorists and the general public, to engage in
lively debates including great food& drink filled breaks in the lovely
garden. The plenary lectures such as "Lived City, Viewed City: Modern
Delhi" by Narayani Gupta and 'The Cinematic Public" by Ravi Vasudevan
were among my favorite local presentations. They provided invaluable insights
into the distinct, richly textured Delhi culture. In addition, for three
consecutive days we heard from a variety of speakers informative presentations
on censorship, digital art practices, global media culture, software issues
etc., International presenters came from Australia, Pakistan, Austria,
UK, Canada and an especially large contingent from the Netherlands, representing
the dedicated Dutch/Sarai collaborations.
The conference events filled our daily schedules, however a little time
remained to wander among the narrow alleys lined by ancient buildings
and gardens of old Delhi. A little time to sit and marvel at the ever
changing crowds in the courtyard of the great mosque, to watch the spectacular
wedding processions on the streets, eat great dinners together and most
interestingly visit the electronic shops of the bazaar. This has to be
seen to be believed. Active Surplus might be a Mecca for electronics aficionados
in Toronto, but it surely pales in comparison with the thousands of incredible
operators and amply stocked little shops in Delhi. The bazaar proved the
words of the Sarai info sheet: "ground reality in India is that the vast
majority of the urban population has access to new media space through
small cable operators, hundreds of thousands of Public Call Offices, low
cost popular music and videotapes, and inexpensive gray market computers."
The Sarai New Media Lab was established by funding support from the Daniel
Langlois Foundation. In addition Sarai received a three year operational
grant from the Economic and Cultural Development Fund of the Netherlands.
A Waag/Sarai (Netherlands/India) project has been established and continues
to thrive. The possibility of Canadian/Indian media artists exchanges,
residencies as well as ISEA sponsored local events will be considered
among future projects of Sarai.
The collective enthusiasm of the Sarai people has been a really great
experience. They not only discuss outreach and interdisciplinary approaches,
they really practice it. I feel truly honored by working with Sarai on
their international advisory board and wish future success for this unique
New Media Initiative.
Nina Czegledy 3.01
YEAR01 FORUM INDEX