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VoW 2020: The Virtual is the new Real

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 By Sanjeev Chopra
This is the first in a series of fifteen articles to the run up to VoW 2020 in the Valley’s best known paper, the Garhwal Post, which is also the preferred forum of the writers and would be writers of Doon!

With just fifteen weeks to go for the fourth edition of VoW, your columnist is often asked… where’s the buzz… where is the coverage of the school outreach? Where is the list of authors whom we will interact with? There’s a sudden silence after the announcement of the shortlist… How will we interact with the authors? Will exhibitions be held? How will books be launched, and how will poets congregate over coffee… to this and many more questions, my answer is: virtual is the new real, and let’s celebrate it (online!)

Let me begin by sharing my aphorisms in the times of Covid. First and foremost, social interactions have increased, albeit on virtual platforms. But going on Zoom is so natural these days. Therefore, the term to be used should be ‘physical’, not ‘social’ distancing. If anything, there has been more time to socialise with family and friends in the last few months than ever before. The cutting down on travel/meetings in office and work from home has meant more time for books, music, yoga and catching up on the social circuit.

Second: distance time is no longer a salient factor in deciding schedules for sessions or resource persons and participants for webinars and conferences. True, one has to factor in the time for meetings in which the speakers are trans-Atlantic, but it is certainly easier, and far more affordable to get them to opine than in real life. In fact, we could not have envisaged the session on Hindi and Hindustani teaching in Jambudweep and beyond without online being the main format.

Third: we always had problems at our physical location with regard to the number of people who could attend a particular session. Typically, we would have eighty to hundred people in a session, but when more people wanted to enter, it would disturb the flow of the speaker’s conversation, and if someone wanted to leave mid-way, that too was distracting for everyone, especially those on the high table. In the online mode, we can have over a thousand participants in each of the four venues, plus exhibition areas, and the Jantar Mantar – the virtual space for gup shup, gossip and informal chats.

Fourth: our debates have become pan Indian. Our Kendriya Vidyalaya debate was limited to the one score and ten schools in Dehradun region. Now it is pan-Indian, and the Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya joining in as well. Fortunately for all of us, the ex-Principal of Oak Grove and a regular participant in VoW forums is now a Director in the Union Education Ministry, and is driving this effort. The subject for the school debate this year is ‘Online Classes and their impact on the personal relationship between the teacher and the taught’. Likewise the debate which we used to organise with DAV’s Mantrana Society will become even more engaging with an elimination round and pre-quarter finals in different institutions, and the quarter finals being conducted online by the DAV College, Dehradun with, technology and IT support from the VoW Secretariat. Among the topics chosen for the Inter College Debate is: “India should recognise Tibet and Taiwan’. This will certainly get Gen X to read books, search the net, as well as visit the libraries to check their facts for a subject. Another highlight this year is the Inter College Sanskrit Debate being organised by the Rishi Balmiki Sanskrit Vishvavidalaya, Haryana. Of course, the MPs will debate on the Vox Populi Forum.

Fifth: Given the nature of the platform, all discussions and conversations are for eternity. Till the last edition, paucity of funds meant that we could record only some sessions – and there were many queries about the ones that were not recorded. Now all sessions will be automatically recorded, and also available for all times on the social media channels, as well as our website.

Sixth: our competitions – poetry and photography will also receive many more entries, and judging them online will be both an exciting and engaging affair. Competitors have been asked to submit portfolios, rather then pictures which will make it a more meaningful affair, and the visual archives on the VoW website will also be enriched.

Seventh: Our secretariat as well as our volunteers and the logistics tem will learn to leverage technology in a big way! It’s not just enough to send links on Google Meet or Zoom for the successful conduct of such a large event. One will have to understand basic IT systems, integration across platforms, onboarding of content, pre-recoding of events and their seamless interface with a pre-registered audience asking questions on the chat box, and much more!

Eighth: our exhibitions may also be online – and we will focus on those smaller units and livelihood SHGs which do not have their online presence. Thereby, we will be able to open up the global markets for really local products, which had lost the market on account of the closure of haats, markets and travel restrictions, and last but not the least –

Ninth: we have been able to develop a connect with organisations as varied as a youth debating forum, The Voice of India, to the ‘Centre for Study of Human Security Systems’ in Hyderabad, to colleges in Minicoy islands in the Arabian Sea, to ‘Looms of Ladakh’ in the higher Himalayas .. What a connect!

(Next week, in the second article in this series, Prof Satish Aikant will discuss ‘Reading Literature in times of Pandemic’.