Thursday, November 19, 2009

My 24 Frames from TEDIndia 2009

Everyone has a story to tell and some tell it better than the others.

I am not a story teller, but my grand father, Late Mr. Venkateswara Bhagavatar, a Hari Katha master, was a professional at that. The presentation by Mr. Devadutt Pattanaik reminded me the Indian mythological stories that I heard from him and which are engrained in my head. I cannot tell a story like he would and this is the post-it version of my experience at TED India 2009.

TED India 2009 brought together 800+ social entrepreneurs, architects, educationists, founders, artists, scientists, statisticians, and executives and more than that, 100 fellows from diverse backgrounds and exuberating stories to share. A simple story weaving through technology, entertainment, and design and portraying a stark reality created a new connection among otherwise distinct individuals.

A concept that started two decades ago in US arrived in India and unveiled at the coliseum of Infosys in Mysore. This provided the stage to tell and share some moving stories. Even before we entered the “golf ball”, we knew that we are in for a visual treat and the conference did not disappoint. The next four days was a roller coaster ride listening to some ground breaking technological advancements to some tear jerking tales for social change.

What characterized the conference was the innovation, use of the multiple mediums which seem quite commonplace today. When the “Sixth Sense” was presented by Mr. Pranav Mistry, the crowd erupted. And yet none of the technology used was ever really created with the intentions of doing something extraordinary, but to merely connect diverse social groups. He humbled the crowd by announcing that the software behind the tool will be made public next month.

Thinkers and politicians emphasized the need to focus on the bottom of the pyramid, especially by building the communications and spreading the message for a better social structure. So did the innovators. A simple push button in the “question box” could get you answers from across the world.

Cricket is a favorite form of game in India. For the common man, Mr. Harsha Bhogle, a commentator and well known figure in the cricket world, highlighted the fast track image of cricket and the intermingling of sports and entertainment industry. Though the game is re-designed to support commercialism, the flavor of the game is still at the public grounds and at common entertainment. At some point, I felt that his speech was turned into an 18 minute commercial for IPL design format and missed on the very story of how common and entertaining the game is.

Activists are always seen as bunch of wary folks (who tend to act outside the conventional rules) but the performance of Ms. Mallika Sarabai and the monologue by Eve Ensler presented the emotional creature in them. Following the touching presentation by Ms. Sunita Krishnan on the hardships of women and children rescued from trafficking, the spontaneous gesture by Ms. Rose Shuman to support Sunita Krishnan’s cause was moving and brought compassion among many TEDizens who opening pledged to support her.

Some noteworthy mentions are the “story of the middle finger” by Mr. Horst Rechelbacher, “the oneness” by Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, “growth stick” by Mr. Hans Rosling, and the captivating voice of Ms. Usha Uthop, she rocked the stage and the roar of the first session of the TED main stage was never matched again.

The intermingling of music, starting with Ms. Usha Uthop, followed by great performances by Sivamani, Anil Srinivasan and Sikkil Gurucharan, and Sidi Goma, provided the timely entertainment between a heavily packed schedule of presentation and personal introductions.

The cleanliness on Infosys campus revealed what the communities and cities would have looked like a long time ago, before the cars, trains, and cell phones, something Mr. Shekar Kapoor alluded to in his speech, the old days of Delhi without pollution and open and starry skies. The presence of Kamal Hassan was missed, but made up for by Abhay Deol. While he was freely moving around the TED event, he had his share of fans to deal with outside the event halls. The stage even covered designs from neatly pressed impeccable suits to mostly slacks, to the glitterati of South Indian sarees.

I cannot end this without mentioning the TED Fellows. I am a fan of Quentin Tarantino and Alfred Hitchcock. I believe that it is perhaps the “don’t give a damn” attitude that makes them some of the greatest film makers of our times. This resonated among the Fellows who are pursing ventures “out of the box”, irrespective of their starry educational backgrounds. Looking back at all the presentations by the TED Fellows and on the main stage, one thread that linked the beckoning future is the need for humanity and compassion.

Meet the TED India 2009 Fellows.

Some inspiring presentations from the past TED conferences include

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