Monday, March 27, 2017

TEDx VNR VJIET - March 25, 2017

I missed all the fun of being at the TEDx VNR VJIET last year simply because I was one of the speakers and was busy worrying about my speech. But this year, the second edition of the event, I decided to attend all the events and have lots of fun. The baton passed from Abhinay (who was the licensee last year and who has passed out and joined TCS this year) to Meghana who is the current licensee. I was impressed with the quiet resolve and fierce resilience that Meghana brings to the job ever since I dealt with her last year (from the late night call about my transport last year - a sure sign of a diligent mind ticking things off)  and was sure she'd do as good a job, if not better, this year. The TEDx VNR VJIET Community was kind enough to assign me the mentor's role and it offered me a ring side view of all that was happening and that fitted into my plans perfectly. So I went early to the pre-event dinner on the 24th March at Jonathan's Kitchen with Suresh and then spent the entire day of the 25th at the event on Wednesday. Like my friend Ramaraju who was with me said - "it was a day well spent."
The TEDx VNR VJIET Team
The college wore a festive look with posters and banners advertising 'Paradigm Shift' (the theme for the event) and I saw familiar, helpful faces right from the gate. From Vijay who offered to park my car to Vineeth who asked me if I had my breakfast and gallantly offered to get me some, there was that feeling of being fully taken care of. I was constantly asked about breakfast or if I was comfortable, or led to the lounge and offered coffee or tea (so hospitable were they that Ramaraju, who wanted some alone time on his laptop and phone kept fleeing to dark corners to escape their hospitality). And then there is all this talk about the millenials!

"There are no coincidences,' said Shreya at some point during the day. She compered the show brilliantly. She picked up a thread from what the speaker had just said, added her own words and segued into the next act. 'It has all been thought of and done deliberately,' she said. That's a powerful statement to make and I was left wondering how many times the schedules and the activities must have been gone through with a fine net so nothing slips. I met Sruthi, Nikhil, Vivek, Shreya (this time as the group 'Rooh' - and took a picture with them - we shared some anxious moments before our performances last year). And Sloka, Vandana, Samanvith, Kittu, Anusha, Yash among others. I visited the lounge and found the speakers - Sangeeta Ishwaran (dancer, performer, activist), Prashant Dhawan (biomimicry, citizen activist), Jawwad Patel (serial innovator), Anuradha Naik (architect, conservationist), Sagarika Melkote (Hyderabad Runners) and Carolyn Theresa (food blogger). Suresh (Chairman Lycos) and Mohana Krishna (film writer and director) were to arrive later. I could sense the focus of the speakers sharpening before their talks and I slipped out to meet Dr. D. N. Rao and Narayana Chakravarthula.
The brilliant backdrop designed by Kittu

The show got underway at 1015.
The first speaker was Anuradha Naik, Conservative Architect, and she started with a picture of the Indian football team that had reached the quarter finals of the 1952 Olympics. The team had six players from Hyderabad and a coach too. What she mentioned was interesting - they were all from Mallepally. How - she explained later - was through the City Improvement Board set up by the seventh Nizam after the floods of 1908 and the thoughtful planning by the eminent engineer Visweswariah who was assigned the job. Mallepally had grounds in front of its homes and that allowed the young lads to play and practice and become champions - the mere creation of facilities.

Carolyn Theresa Simon, Model and Food Blogger, spoke next of her experiences as a food blogger in Bangalore and how one can discover history and oneself by trying out local food  - she narrated an incident of how she and her family had gone to Delhi once and stayed with the safe MacDonalds instead of trying out Chandni Chowk's famed street food. When in Rome, eat Roman she emphasised and you'll be a better person for that. I agree.

Sangeeta Ishwaran, Bharatanatyam Dancer, performer and activist, spoke powerfully about fear - she strode the stage and delivered a mesmerising talk/performance starting with how fear stops us from talking about crimes and abuse (a  chilling story of a child who was abused who could only say 'They did it') and how of fear makes us commit crimes. She spoke with candour, intensity, humour, openness and soon transformed the stage into an open conversation between her and the audience. She danced, she sang, she dramatised - and drove her point of fear being the root cause of conflict and how by being a bit vulnerable, and loving, we could transcend fear. She was superb.

We broke for tea. We were led to a beautiful book expo of some classics (50 Not Out included). Mohan had his speech in this session so he arrived in time for a cup of tea and a small chat before we headed back.

Two young poets, Akhila Gopalakrishnan and Saima Afreen, both whom I know previously, and was pleasantly surprised to see here, shared poetry that they wrote and it was beautiful to see so many fine ideas being shared by the poets in their discussion cum recital.

Prashant Dhawan, cofounder of Bio Mimicry Labs, Bengaluru, spoke of how smart cities are not really smart and are in fact more of money making propositions and that we as citizens should have a voice in what really means smart. Smart, he said, ought to be life enhancing and that's pretty much the one reason we must look for. Beyond that he spoke of how nature provides so much inspiration and that though it may appear that there is a competition among trees in the forest to reach out for the skies, there is a network of roots below it that keeps it all going through a common sharing of resources. The competition we see outward is not the story, what goes underneath is the story really.

Sagarika Melkote (my junior form college days who is married to my senior from school Dr. M.V. Sridhar, General Manager, BCCI), now an avid runner represented the Hyderabad Runners, a small group of five people that has now transformed into a movement of  4500 people, local support groups for runners, a full fledged marathon for Hyderabad which is the toughest one in India. She spoke honestly of how she was far removed from the sports fields, how the maximum sporting activity was limited to clapping when her friends won awards at school. The Runners happened by chance and now she has run 20 odd half marathons and a few full marathons across the world in the past few years. Her sharing of her first full marathon amidst 16000 runners and how the group supports you (go on, you are doing a better job than our government). How marathons do not have any winners and everyone who finishes is a winner. She spoke of how its an accessible, healthy sport that brings out the best in a person.

Mohana Krishna Indraganti spoke of the connection between literature, culture and movies and how the link was being broken since the local languages were not spoken in schools and colleges nor encouraged. He says popular culture is not what is shown as culture and ought to flow from the real, rich heritage that the language has. He bemoaned the neglect of humanities and gradual erosion of culture in our literature and movies. It is his pet peeve and rightly so - he has been a staunch advocate of Telugu literature and urged those in the audience to read more Telugu literature, both contemporary and old.

Off for lunch. But not before writing out a blessing for someone out there on a post card which was in our bag of goodies. We met Suresh who joined us at lunch. Another lovely gesture was that we were asked to pick any one book on display at the Book Expo, read it and pass it on. This was one of the many thoughtful gestures that the team came up with. I picked up 'Around the World in Eighty Days' by Jules Verne which was recommended to me by a young man. Dr. Sudhir Naik picked up 50 Not Out and I was glad to sign it for him. In the lounge I chatted with the mercurial Jawwad Patel, a young man with exceptional humility and a brilliant mind.

The performance by Anandamide was exquisite and I was sad I could only catch a part of it. Here's a glimpse. Just the other day I was reading out Anandamide - the substance in the mind that can create its own ecstasy, the cannabis like feeling. Ananda, bliss.  I could have heard them for a much longer time. Thankfully they're on YouTube.
Jawwad Patel, all of 22 years old, an undergraduate and serial innovator in line to receive the Young Scientist Award) walked on to the stage and narrated how he had a lonely childhood (one part of that being that he liked Barbie dolls in pink). In his isolation and friendless world he made a friend of a screw driver that he named Tony and began an exciting journey into the world of science. He named all the gadgets in the room and then shared his secrets with them. Being an empathetic soul he also wanted to see the secrets they had in their stomach and used Tony to pry them open. He mastered science pretty fast and used this new found power to make a lot of mischief at school. One day he found a young kid crying when he dropped water (in drought prone Latur) and realised he could use his science to help others. His Dew Drop is patented and can produce 1.86 litres of water in an hour out of thin air. Jawwad has some 2000 innovations and a few patents to his name. Of course he has his Jawwad Patel Labs. What I loved about him was the complete lack of arrogance, a vulnerability and mostly a deep empathy. Don't look to find innovations he said with great maturity, seek problems and try to solve them.

Suresh, Executive Chairman of Lycos, was the last speaker and he spoke about the democratisation of technology. He began with  the idea of how Henry Ford democratised automobiles in 1908, then how Gutenberg democratised knowledge with the introduction of the printing press, availability of water and electricity and then wondered if the new frontier, the Internet, has done its job and reached its full potential yet. he recounted an incident when a cab driver and he were travelling in the same car and he could access the cabby's name through technology while the cabbie could not. Is it time for us to stop learning and now allow technology or the Internet to learn us? To be truly smart in a world where we are constantly harassed to prove ourselves and out honesty and our antecedents. Cannot technology give comfort, convenience and dignity to the human race? He urged the youngsters to press for democratisation of technology, to reach out to the other side through technology and not create artificial barriers.

For a brief moment the power went off but they handled it without skipping a beat. Shreya made us do a 'can we bring the rain into this room now' technique and it was so lovely. There was this fine performance by young flautist Lalith and once again I felt that it could have gone on for a longer time.

Meghana, the licensee for this event and indefatigable skipper of this ship, stepped up and spoke convincingly, passionately and with rare maturity and clarity. Fluently she thanked her team, the speakers, her mentor, her institution. So much so that Ram could not stop telling me - 'This girl will go places'. She invited all 40 of her team members on to the stage and then we could see the extent of effort that had gone in - the front end so beautifully handled by Shreya and the many who worked diligently behind the scenes, all with a smile, without leaving any stone unturned. Kittu gave away his trademark portraits of each of the speakers and the backdrop he created for the stage was fascinating.
Abhinay thanking Dr. D.N. Rao

I loved the way Dr. D.N. Rao created a moment of magic when he urged the audience to stand up and cheer the TEDx team of 40 tired but happy volunteers. He stayed through the entire program and supported the youngsters through it all it was fitting that a few moments later Abhinay hurried on to the stage and thanked Dr. Rao emotionally (happy tears, he said), as the one man without whom this entire TEDx journey that has impacted so many, would not have been possible. We all stood up again and applauded Dr. Rao whose love for the students shines through in his deeds and his thoughts and there was another genuinely emotional moment in the room. Abhinay mentored the entire program well and stood behind the team, guiding it along.

I loved the thoughtfulness. For me thoughtfulness is the best expression of love. The post cards. The pictures, The potted plants. The books. The individual care. The attitude of giving and of making this a memorable part of their lives. Well done Meghana and team, Abhinay and the entire team at VNR VJIET. I felt the entire show was tighter, speakers list stronger and overall more impactful than the last year perhaps. Certainly being part of an event like this will change everyone who has been part of it for the better and I am sure they will all be the better for it and certainly make the world a better place for it.

1 comment:

Prashant said...

Dear Harimohan, Congratulations to the TEDx VNR VJIET team for conducting the event so well. You contributed as a mentor and deserve credit . Looking forward to more such events and watching the TEDx talk uploads on the web :) (I have forgotten exactly what all did I cover :))