KATHMANDU, Nov 21: Hundreds of total strangers will be acting completely normal until a predetermined time. Absolutely normal. And just as the clock strikes a certain time, everyone starts taking their pillows out, and starts hitting friendly shots to other pillow-fighters.
The onlookers, who will know nothing about the pre-planning, will see just random strangers around them hitting each other with pillows. This was how one of the first flash mobs in Patan Durbar Square was planned in February 2010.
It was Valentine’s Day and the theme for the flash mob was pillow fight in Patan. One of the organizers, Shirish Pokharel, says it was for fun, “randomness is the point.”
He had also previously coordinated the flash mob deemed as the first event of its kind in Nepal by media in February 2009 where around 120 participants froze for two minutes at Basantapur Durbar Square in Kathmandu.
Flash mob initially started as performance art and from the purpose of satire and hilarity has taken a course of mass communication and information dissemination over the years. The culture of flash mobs in Kathmandu although started with levity, various organizations have recently included it in their campaigns.
Save the Children organized flash mobs at Civil Mall and Bhatbhateni Supermarket on September 16 in which students from Kadambari College, Bright Vision International College and Classic International College carried out a signature campaign and interacted with people about the causes of Infant Mortality Rate (IMR) in Nepal and ways to prevent it.
Women Lead Nepal, a NGO run by two Georgetown graduates in Kathmandu, organized the same on Women’s Day in which volunteers danced and marched around the roundabout in Jawalakhel chanting ‘My Future: My Voice’.
“The main theme of that flash mob was to highlight the need for young women’s voices to be brought into national decision making,” puts Claire Naylor, founder of Women Lead Nepal. “The participants wrote their visions for Nepal’s future on paper and pinned them onto their shirts and walked around carrying the message,” she adds.
A participant in a stand-still mode during the 2010 Freeze flash mob in Basantapur, Kathmandu. (Republica file photo)
The fifth batch of participants of Global Change Course included flash mob in their campaign that went on for two whole weeks. 22 participants froze for two minutes and posed as if they were traveling in public transportation and depicted scenarios of sexual harassment in buses, tempos and other means of public transportation which women are prone to.
“After we finished the two minute long flash mob, we chanted the slogan of our campaign - ‘Stand Up, Speak Up, Sexual Harassment Must Stop,” says Sashi Rai, one of the participants.
They organized flash mobs on October 17 at Old Bus Park, Kathmandu Mall and New Bus Park in Gongabu.
But the idea is still relatively new for Kathmanduites and we are not usually very good at welcoming new things; even if we are, we definitely take time to appreciate it. The success and effectiveness of a flash mob depends on all sorts of reaction from people. Claire says it was interesting, “Some people stopped to take photos and all the vehicles slowed down when they were driving by.”
Pokharel shares, “The flash mob lasted two minutes after which we dispersed, as if we didn’t know what had happened. People were shocked, surprised, laughing, very interested and curious about what was happening.”
Similarly, Sashi Rai says, “When we froze in different poses all of a sudden, people around were surprised and then they started asking each other what it was all about. When we started chanting our slogan they came up to us and asked what we were doing, when we informed them about our campaign they said it was a good initiative.”
Organizing the mob is one thing but its success story cannot be narrated because it targets a large audience. The main idea of all these campaigns and inclusion of flash mobs is to inform and aware people about social issues with the aim of inspiring more and more people to advocate justice in whatever ways they can, to tell them that voices can be raised and problems will only be solved once we start talking about it and come up with solutions.
“I think they’re a fun new medium in the city and they promote creativity which is important in a country where the education system basically discourages creativity,” says Naylor.
Sashi cites flash mobs as an effective medium, more interactive than pamphlets and posters. “From a flash mob, people can see what the group is trying to portray and can imagine themselves in the situation being depicted in front of them. Most people will throw away the pamphlets but the image, it stays with them,” says she.
On the contrary, Pokharel says, “While flashmobs are a great means for entertainment, if it’s for any kind of campaign, it would only be effective if the target crowd is mostly the elites. NGOs and INGOs should use their resources somewhere else other than trying to spread awareness about say, education, health or sanitation through flashmobs. In any case, the trick to making it effective is to not overdo it.”
With the popularity of flashmobs around Kathmandu, be it for informative or entertainment purposes, more and more young people have discovered platforms to put their voices and hopefully creativity forth.
A flash mob is being organized on November 25 at Patan Durbar Square against groping and the culture of stigma and silence (Start a Rising) titled ‘Gangnam-up!’. For more details, search for the title on Facebook.