TEDx: On the Edge
The more you listen, the more you know; the more you inspire, the more you grow. To quote The Joker, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Of course, his statement here extends beyond merely exploiting your skill for money. To have an idea, a belief or a story packed with inspiration, and to not share it with the world is as much a waste as the lack of them. Building on TED’s motto of “Ideas worth spreading”, The Think Tank organized something not often witnessed in Manipal – a TEDx event. The 29th of January, 2017, was unlike the usual lazy Sunday morning, bustling with an eager audience pouring in and the organizing committee members running about the Library Auditorium, rechecking everything and reassuring minimal mishaps.
For those unaware few, TEDx is a program that supports independent organizers who wish to hold TED-like events (talks) at a local level. The event was inaugurated with the unveiling of the TEDx logo, followed by an informative video on quadcopters by Raffaello D’Andrea (on TEDGlobal). Like every other TEDx program, the first of Manipal’s TEDx talks had a theme: E.D.G.E. – Explore, Discover, Grow and Engage. Local speakers from Manipal, Udupi and even MIT were lined up for the 5-hour long event, which was aimed at appealing to presenters, thinkers, and innovators to fuel the inspirational edge within them.
1. Sanah Rizvi: Importance of Success
“Success is a habit, a mindset. Learn it.”
A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Sanah Rizvi was the first speaker to take the stage, with words worth a million quotes. Unlike the critical romantics, she highlighted the raw realism in success, and broke the three most common clichés revolving its notion:
- You either have talent or you don’t
- You do it alone
- You get one shot at success
“Success as a concept is abstract, but its implications are very real.”
Quoting examples of successful people, she spoke on talent vs grit, confidence, and why success was a defining factor of our generation, urging people to liberate themselves from others’ idea of success and follow their own path.
2. M.S. Valiathan: Medicine and Health Technology
“Failures are the biggest teachers, and not talked about enough.”
A cardiac surgeon, Padma Vibhushan awardee and former president of the Indian National Science Academy, Dr. Valiathan spoke about his struggles and achievements behind the success of the Chitra-TTK heart valve, which was designed by him and his team. Struck by the dire need for heart replacement valves and the lack of resources to obtain the same, he decided to make the tools himself, facing failure at several turns.
“Nature challenges us while developing biomedical devices such as these, giving us little way to move forward. We cannot yet claim to have conquered nature.”
After obtaining funds, decades of trials and endless patience, and three failed models, he conquered the high tide and gave the world India’s first indigenous artificial heart valve.
3. Sabyasachi Sengupta: Art of Networking and Storytelling
“Networking opens up the horizon to people who will inspire you, and give you ideas to change your perspectives.”
A banker, an economist, and an acclaimed motivational speaker, Sabyasachi sure did leave a “cracker of an impression” on his audience. Speaking about the importance of networking in the real world, a lesson he learned as a young boy, he recounted his journey as he moved from Kolkata to Amsterdam amid the financial crisis, and elaborated on the golden rules for shaping the qualities of a good networker:
- Understanding self-worth
- Leaving an impression
- Being a good listener
- Being willing to admit to mistakes.
“It’s your attitude, not your aptitude that defines your altitude.”
Urging people to be unique, passionate, and patient, and to find inspiration beyond the immediate horizon, he provided a new dimension to the value of networking beyond jobs.
4. Dwiref Oza: Self Expression
“Children find rainbows because they know where to look for them.”
A talented poet, this MITian gripped everyone with his creative expressions, speaking about art, the power of sounds and imagery, and an active imagination which adults seem to lose touch with as they “grow up”. When creativity blends with imagination, it creates a fresh perspective while tackling problems, and Dwiref focused on just that.
“Art is the syntax of imagination.”
To him, art is simply humanity trying to understand itself and the world surrounding it. Building on that, he emphasized the importance of being in-tune with yourself and embracing the emotional instinct in humans as a strength.
“We don’t look at the world with wonder anymore. Get down on your knees and look at the world from an altitude of 3 feet again.”
Ending with a verse straight out of a slam poem, Dwiref’s words resonated with each person in the room, making them fall in love with the child in them.
5. Tushar Lall: Music & Fusion
The man behind the Indian Jam Project took center stage and spoke about his journey from being a B.Com degree holder to shooting to fame by unstitching popular Western music and composing it all over again using Indian classical instruments. His work has been applauded by Emmy winner: Michael Price and Mark Gattiss for his compositions that blend pieces of Western Music with Indianised parts of the same using Flute, Sarangi, Sitar, and Piano.
Tushar Lall is a self-taught pianist who has been playing the instrument since the age of 4. He holds a diploma in Sound Design, Mixing and Mastering. He has worked with BBC, NABC Houston, and Vodaphone on a couple of projects and is planning to release originals soon. He has performed in clubs like Pacha, Karma (NYC) as well as Bluefrog (Bombay).
He talked about how he infused “Sanskaar” into western music, and the power of Indian Classical instruments to transform a simple piece into something that is truly beautiful and enchanting.
Tushar Lall said, “Everything in this world is art, and every person who works at creating something is an artist. I go back home and compose a piece of music, you go back home and create an electrical circuit, and somebody crunches numbers to find out the most economical way to do something, and to me, everybody is an artist. It is about time that we realize that everybody is an artist. You see, Elon Musk wants to settle a human colony on Mars, and to me, he seems to be a greater artist, compared to anybody else at the moment.”
He spoke about how important it is to keep the flame alive and guard it against social constructs that try to pull you down in your journey. In a society like ours, art is viewed as a novelty, something that people do for amusement, and this viewpoint becomes the reason due to which a lot of artists quit their journey mid-way.
He said, “When I started off, people told me that there are already millions of composers in the world, what would you conquer by working in this field? Do you really think you can be the next Rahman?” To which his reply was, “Not everyone who is pursuing a dream is already there. You see, there are a million composers out there, but not all of them are great composers, there are a lot of actors out there, and not all of them are great actors, my aim is just to become better at what I am doing, which means that I just have to make the cut amongst the few who are excelling in their field of work. I say the profession doesn’t matter as long as you are hardworking and passionate about what you do. The right people will find you no matter what.”
Tushar spoke about how hard work is the single most important thing to do in order to excel at whatever you’re doing. People will try to explain your success by speaking volumes about the innate talent you possess, but nobody will notice the years of hard work that went behind making you what you are at the moment. As much as art is a form of expressing oneself, and we picture artists as chain smokers who live in dingy rooms and stare at sunsets and drink whiskey to come up with beautiful art, art is also something that comes with discipline, and this always goes unnoticed. He said, that imagination gives birth to technique, and technique can only be mastered by hours and hours of practice, every single day.
“Whatever you chose to do in your life, do it with passion, and reinforce it with hard work. The key is to never stop.”
6. Avani Awasthee: Environmental Impact
At the age of 14, Avani made a video called “RE3” (Recycle, Reuse, Refuse), which was awarded the 3rd place nationally, making way for her to become the Student ambassador for Tetra Pack, the multinational food packaging and process company of Swedish Origin. She was a member of the Cycle-Recycle initiative, where a group of children between the age of 5 to 17 formed an organization which was aimed at clearing the mess in their surroundings by riding bicycles into various blocks of their housing society and clearing the garbage on their own, which inspired local residents to hop on and be considerate about the environment and its well-being. She got the opportunity to meet Mr. Robert Swan, the first man in human history to walk both the poles of our planet, and was pre-selected for an expedition in the ice-clad continent of Antarctica, for studying climate change.
She opened the talk by saying: “I don’t want to protect the environment, I want to make a world where the environment doesn’t need to be protected.”
She said that just because we can’t see what is happening, does not mean that it is not happening. Climate change is very real and needs to be tackled head on. “When you stand there and watch mountains of blue ice crash down into the ocean, it breaks your heart. The roars of the crashing icebergs were deafening,” she recounts.
It’s estimated that if the entire continent of Antarctica melts, the sea levels will rise by 68 meters. What that means is that for a trip to the beach, we will not have to go to Kaup or Malpe, but rather, Malpe will come to our door, as Manipal is just 72 meters above the sea level.
She added that it’s not the environment that needs us, it’s we who need the environment, for whatever efforts we make, we should not give up. Avani also suggested a few ways in which we can help, namely:
- Say no to plastics
- Insist on drip irrigation
- Use of Solar Energy
- Reuse, Refuse, Recycle
- Save paper
- Switch to LED
She went on to tell about how important it is for us that all of us play a major role in how the future of our planet will turn out to be.
“Let’s not ask what the government, the college, or the administration is doing, let’s ask as individuals, about what we can do. Are we willing to give our 1%?”
7. Geeve George: Technology
The 16-year-old child prodigy Geeve George spoke about how real world problems can be solved using technology. Geeve was fascinated by computer games, and that was where he found his calling, and jumped into the world of programming and machine learning.
In his 10th grade, he joined “Dorks Corner,” India’s largest IT quizzing blog. He kept working on improving his knowledge, took courses to learn various languages, and took part in the TCS Rural IT Quiz multiple times. He finally got his break and won the National Championship after competing against 14 lakh students. He developed a tool called interact which was a tool through which visually impaired people could use the computer without the use of a mouse or a keyboard. He submitted the idea to Intel’s IoT contest 2015, and received funds and prizes from the likes of Intel, Instructables, and Adafruit.
He has worked with the likes of Microsoft, Intel, mediate, and is currently working on about 10 projects. Geeve got the chance to attend the MIT media lab workshop for 10 days, where he developed a child tracking technology and a way to transact without the need for cash.
He is currently working on the intersection of health and technology and has developed a technology called “The magniware,” which is basically a portable microscope which allows users to turn their smartphones into microscopes by attaching them to the portable apparatus and running the app provided by Geeve. New additions to the gadget include the ability to project the image using the flashlight of the phone and electronic filters attached in front of it, and the ability to virtually observe a specimen in 360 degrees.
“Curiosity is the stairway towards a solution, and the right way to make progress is by asking questions.”- Geeve George.
8. Padmanabh Pandit: Co-existence of Art and Science
A graphic designer, writer, poet, photographer, blogger, foodie, and part-time engineer, Padmanabh Pandit spoke about how science and art go hand-in-hand; neither superior, neither inferior.
“We associate Art with beauty and aesthetics, and science with utility. Neither downplays the other.”
Art involves balance, symmetry, unity – elements which are an equally essential part of Science; they are as much in Science as in Art. He attacked the stigma attached to being in Arts, because ‘Science nahi mila kya?’ is not the response you give to someone when they tell you that they are in Arts. He went on to talk about several renowned people who achieved great heights by fusing the Arts and the Sciences to create masterpieces the whole world admires in awe.
Further, quoting Einstein who believed that after a point, science and art condense, Padmanabh is strongly of the opinion that one must observe before quantifying anything. He believes that practice comes prior to making any principle – and questions, to explore its depths. While science drives us to practice, art molds our minds to be more skeptical and question things as they are.
“We need to move to a more holistic idea of education.”
Focus needs to be diverted from a lateral field to fusion. The ideology that marks are indicative of intelligence has to be demolished. The essence of intelligence is its ability to solve problems, and both science and art do that, only in their own different ways.
“Science and arts are complementary to each other and to compare them is to disrespect both the fields.”
9. Ganesh Nayak: Adventure
If Ganesh Nayak’s life were to be described in a word, it has to be ‘adventure’.
“December 23, 2012 – the day I took one of the most important decisions of my life.”
A smoker for over 10 years decided to reinforce the man of will in him.
“I decided to quit smoking.”
All those years of smoking had robbed him of his stamina. He also dreamed of traveling, and leaving his job was just one of the many sacrifices he made for the same. Saving every penny he could, he finally bought a bike – one of his greatest assets. He narrated his adventures on the bike.
“There is nothing like the joy of feeling your life bounce back.”
Often, he was stranded, uncertain of what was to come, but that is what it is all about; when adventure grabs you by the collar and shows you ordinary things in the most extraordinary ways.
“Adventure gives a new meaning to things. It gives you so much – even a stomach upset from excessive consumption of apricots!”
As he stood on the dais, 4 years since his last cigarette, he questioned if it was all worth, only to answer it immediately.
“Of course, it is. Every but of it.
Explore, dream, discover.”
10. Lohit Sahu: Education
“Almost everything is available to us at the click of a button today; not just available, but also customized for us.”
Lohit Sahu’s talk emphasized on the present pattern of education and the need to change it. He showed a very interesting and funny video which clearly showed why the objectives of Indian education must be changed.
“Access and availability of good quality education still remain the major challenges today.”
He went on to suggest alternatives to the present system so that students can obtain the most out of it. He believes that personalization is the key. According to him, understanding students’ cognitive behavior is very important for their education. One of the best of ways to achieve personalized delivery, he says, is by the use of artificial intelligence. Artificial intelligence is, undeniably, an instrument for technological development, but at the same time, he is strongly of the opinion that it is time we used artificial intelligence to personalize education.
Unfortunately, the eleventh speaker, Anand Sudarshan, who was to speak on ‘Entrepreneurship’ could not make it due to certain health issues.
Wrapping the event with Lohit Sahu’s speech and Dhruv Suri’s excellent compering, Manipal University’s first TEDx event undeniably lived up to the expectations it had set, leaving its audience with boundless inspiration. The social spaces during the breaks, dedicated to encouraging interaction with the speakers, along with an arranged dinner later that evening, gave people an opportunity to ask questions and absorb the experiences of the presenters to stir a sense of motivation within them. Standing by its theme, the talk left quite an impression on those who attended it, paving the path to explore, discover, grow and engage.
– Tejal Khullar, Peeyush Chauhan, and Priyanjali Roychoudhury, for MTTN