How Sarai happened
Sarai began to take shape in the summer of 1998 in Delhi.
The summer of '98 was a time for many new beginnings in the city of Delhi. The nineties had been a decade marked by doubt and rethinking on many fronts, all of which seemed to have come to a head for some of us during that summer.
There was a sense of disquiet with increasing urban violence and strife, dissatisfaction with restrictive modes of thinking and practice within mainstream academia, the universities & the media and a general unease at the stagnation that underlay the absence of a critical public culture.
At the same time, Delhi witnessed a quiet rebirth of an independent arts and media scene. This became evident in exhibitions and screenings that began taking place modestly in alternative venues, outside galleries and institutional spaces, and in archival initiatives that began to be active. Spaces for dissent and debate were being kept alive by clusters of teachers and students in the universities. New ideas, modes of communication and forms of protest were being tried out and tested on the streets. There was a vibrant energy evident in street level improvisations with new technologies. Public phone booths were transforming themselves into street corner cyber cafés, independent filmmakers were beginning to organise themselves in forums and a new open source and free software community made its mark in the city's BBSs (Electronic Bulletin Boards). The city itself, as a space and as an idea, was becoming a focus for enquiry and reflection, and a provocation for a series of creative experiments.
It was from within this ferment of ideas, rough & ready plans, and fragments of proposals, that a series of conversations on film history, new media theory, media practice and urban culture was able to mature into the conceptual foundation of Sarai. Underlying these conversations was a desire to create a space which, like the sarais for which Delhi was once well known, would be a convivial place where people from many backgrounds could gather, converse and work together.
The challenge before the founding group was to cohere a philosophy that would marry this range of concerns to the vision of creating a lively public space where research, media practice and activism could flow into each other.
It took two years to translate this conception into a plan for a real space and a design of a workable interdisciplinary programme of activities. The Sarai Initiative embraces interests that include cinema history, urban cultures and politics, new media theory, computers, the Internet and software cultures, documentary filmmaking, digital arts and critical cultural practice.
Sarai has been founded on the basis of a collaborative vision and it will grow by continuing to include and engage with new people and ideas.
Ravi Vasudevan & Ravi Sundaram (Centre for the Study of Developing Societies)
Raqs Media Collective (Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula & Shuddhabrata Sengupta)
Aims & Objectives
Sarai, the New Media Initiative, a programme of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies is an alternative, non-profit space for an imaginative reconstitution of urban public culture, new/old media practice and research and critical cultural intervention.
The framework of Sarai includes scholarly reflection and creative work on film & video, computers, telephony, print culture, radio, multimedia and the Internet.
Aims & Objectives
To become an engaged and integral part of contemporary urban culture within the city of Delhi.
+ To foster interdisciplinary research on urban culture & politics and media history & practice.
+ To create contexts for collaboration between practitioners & scholars
+ To collaborate with non-elite and neighbourhood media practitioners with new skills through workshops and outreach programmes.
+ To demonstrate the validity of low-cost & low-tech methods and strategies in media and communication practices, with a commitment to public participation and access.
+ To promote non-propreitary (copyleft) and collaborative models of cultural practice/knowledge.
Activities & Interests
Media Research & Theory + Media Practice + Media History + Free Software Development + Web Based Practices + Multimedia & Digital Art + Workshops & Seminars + Training + Lectures/Talks/Presentation + Advocacy & Education + Film/Video/Multimedia Screenings + Online Journal & Website + Publications.
February 2001, Delhi.
This text first appeared in Sarai Reader 01: The Public Domain