“In a world of unlimited voices and choices, those who can bring people together and tell a good story have power” – Shonda Rhimes.
The TEDx Shiv Nadar University (SNU) platform brought together a bevy of achievers from different walks of life. They shared their stories of personal strife, how they turned around the pain into art, creativity and taken up initiatives setting a paradigm for greater good of the society.
TEDx is essentially an independently organised event in TED-style talks that connects local speakers to local people. The conference, in its second edition at Shiv Nadar University, was organized into three sessions with five speakers delivering a talk for about 20 minutes in each session delving into their experiences and area of expertise. TEDx speakers at SNU shared ideas and inspirations that sensitized and sparked conversations evident during the breaks.
The TEDx roster was laden with speakers, thinkers and doers from diverse fields that included social activists, artists, entrepreneurs, corporate honchos, rally racing car driver to the boy on moon mission. Each speaker delivered a talk that wowed the audience and their courage and vision received a standing ovation.
Nikheel Aphale, a caligrapher and graphic designer, weaved magic with his wand…I mean brush. He is much in love with Devnagari script and passionate about calligraphy and letterforms in general. He did an interesting session involving the audience as he inscribed their initials in Hindi fonts.
“For me calligraphy is a purely spiritual experience. The way my pen, ink, paper and hand interact – is a play of action and reaction. I am not sure of how the stroke is going to end or how ink is going to react on the paper or how the tool is going to help ink form interesting unexpected texture. I enjoy this process of uncertainty, surprises, unplanned exploration more than a final outcome”. – Nikheel Aphale, Calligrapher and Graphic Designer.
Nikheel spoke about the unconventional career choice and opportunities available to a calligraphy enthusiast, right from traditional printing, textile to graphic designing. Later, he created a masterpiece accompanied with music. If I ever turn to calligraphy probably it will be all a garbled mess.
Some candid chat over a cuppa coffee with Stalin K, India’s leading exponent of community radio, campaign design and community video, warmed me to his idea of democracy and his non-profit project Video Volunteers. His organization Video Volunteers is one of the biggest community media organizations in the world.
“When no voice is too small or unimportant to be heard, only then, can we be a democracy in the true sense of the word.” – Stalin K., Video Volunteers
I looked forward to his talk later in the day which laid bare the dystopia that exists in present democratic set up. He brings home the point that 2 per cent of population controls the resources in our country while the rest of the population is barely surviving with access to just 2 per cent of total resources. He put forward the idea of peaceful coexistence and cohabitation as seen in the flock of birds.
If your story is not being told tell your own story – Stalin K.
Stalin in his TEDx Talk pointed out that the biggest casualties of fast-paced development are sustainable rural communities. Video Volunteers empowers marginalized people to tell their stories and create change campaigns, so that their issues come out from under the rug and become important threads in India’s development narrative. VV believes the world would be a better place if the voices of thousands joined together to amplify every single cry for justice.
Stalin has produced films such as “Lesser Humans” and “India Untouched”, which have galvanized international attention to caste discrimination and won numerous film awards. He has designed more than 20 campaigns and events on various human rights issues including Cricket for Peace, Game4Change, Asia Social Forum and Making Caste Visible at UN World Conference against Racism, and has taught workshops on development communications and the use of media for empowerment at Universities and NGOs in the India and the United States including Boston University and Tata Institute of Social Sciences.
Later, in another interaction with philanthropist and social activist couple Mr and Mrs Sanjay Seth from Gurugram learnt about their Tobacco Cessation project. We mingled with the university students and professors as well getting into conversations around the ongoing TEDx Talks and their life at the campus.
Sanjay Seth is an ex-IITian and IIM Ahmedabad alumnus with over 31 years of experience in the corporate sector and presently actively engaged in a non profit tobacco cessation program of Sambandh Health Foundation. In India there occur one in five male deaths and one in twenty female deaths due to tobacco consumption every year. He had entered tobacco control as India Program Director in the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids. Over the past few years, Sanjay has played a transformative role and made a significant impact in the country saving numerous lives.
TEDx speakers next in line cast spell with their gritty stories
Alumnus of DU Reema Ahmed is a sexuality educator, Co-founder of Candidly and a single mother. She is engaged in CSA (Child Sexual Abuse) awareness program to adults based on her personal story as a CSA survivor. Reema works towards building an understanding of prevalent attitudes on gender and sexuality as they manifest in media and through culture.
In her speech she discussed the common reactions to the topics of sexuality, gender and abuse are that – these should not to be discussed in public. She hopes to raise awareness and question existing stereotypes, without creating an atmosphere of fear, guilt or shame. She says the society is plagued with ‘the hawww factor’. Scandalizing and sometimes trivializing the issues centered around gender and sexuality.
Reema noted that existing social, cultural and religious censures on diversity needs to change. She believes there is a need to sensitize people to understand the suffering of a survivor of abuse. Sharing her personal story she emphasized that it is possible to heal from abuse with acceptance and warmth from the society. She exhorted the audience to not be the horse with blinkers on and trotting on a leash. Instead, take the leap of faith and be the change. She concluded her speech with a beautiful Urdu couplet –
Tere junoon ka natija zaroor niklega, isi samundar se tera suraj zaroor niklega – Reema Ahmed, Co-founder of Candidly
Zorian Cross, shared his transformation from a college dropout who was bullied for being homosexual to award winning actor and playwright. Coincidentally, it was the 10th anniversary of queer movement in the country. His first original play, “The Coming Out”, not only became a local sensation at the 2011 Short and Sweet Delhi Theater Festival but also won him the Best New Talent Award for acting and writing. He idolizes ‘epic of badass -Madonna’ who he says, converted personal pain into something creative.
He shared is happiness when audience accepted his story and craft. In fact, his play was instrumental in getting back a family together as it succeeded the grandpa of the family to understand and accept his grandson’s sexuality.
Art heals you and transforms you. Explore art. – Zorain Cross, Actor and Playwright
His art stems from his supreme confidence in his sexuality and the pain of his past. Zorian Cross plans to revolutionize the Delhi theater scene.
Alien sent to spread love through her madness. – Reshma Valliapan, Artist, Activist, Co-founder of The Red Door
Reshma Valliapan, who puts Schizophrenic as an identifier after her name shared her brave journey breaking the shackles of social stigma that dogs people diagnosed with mental disorders. She is a living example of how acceptance and support can bring back the people with mental illnesses to the society fold and they can live a normal life instead of being locked up.
When I hear my imaginary friend I am called delusional and when society has an imaginary friend it is called religion. – Reshma Valliapan, Schizophrenic, Artist and Activist
Understanding. Sense of belonging. Acceptance. These are the three mantras according to her that will help any body live a wholesome life despite any condition. Reshma shared that it was necessary for her to unlearn the stereotypes and constructs of the world. There was a need to change the narrative. She freed her mind from pre-constructions created by the world.
Today, Reshma is an artist – activist for a number of issues related to mental health, disability, sexuality and human rights, and is the co-founder of The Red Door.
Reshma Valliappan is the protagonist of the PSTB documentary: “A Drop of Sunshine”, which is based on her true story of recovery and living with schizophrenia without medications. Being compared to John Nash as ‘A Beautiful Mind, yet again’, she is an artist with a beat of her own. Her book, an autobiographical account of her life before being diagnosed with schizophrenia, is “Fallen, Standing: My Life as a Schizophrenic”. The book is a first of its kind on schizophrenia, shedding light on the issues of stigma, human rights, legal rights and what it means to live without medications.
Rover on the Moon – Moonshot
Karan Vaish is the lead systems engineer for the Team Indus Lunar Rover – ECA. Karan shared his incredible journey of dream come true to fly to moon. He was a space enthusiast right from school days. His forte, mechanical engineering, and experiences in designing quite a few unmanned rover systems throughout professional, university and school years, landed him with the opportunity to design an actual rover fit for space flight back in 2013. And guess what! We got to see the rover live…India ka moonshot moment 🙂
Young Karan’s journey began with participation in a rover designing competition hosted by ISRO and NASA to gauge landing technology. Initially, they were competing against 30 teams of which now only 2 teams are in the fray to win this competition. Karan pointed out that there’s no precedence to the technology used in their rover that has won them a million dollar prize money. Sheer passion led them onto this tremendous journey which started with searches on Google and now nearing its completion to take the flight to moon. Rightly so the project is called MOONSHOT.
Aided by veterans from the Indian Space Research Organization and backed by a 120 people strong team of engineers and others, this makes him the youngest engineer to build a rover ready for space flight, due launch in the first quarter 2018. Team Indus is building a spacecraft that will soft land on the lunar surface and carry a lunar rover, also designed and manufactured in-house, with the primary mission target to traverse at least 500 meters and send back High Definition imagery data.
Driving in the Fast Lane
Garima Avtar is one of the handful female rally drivers who have participated in almost all of India’s major motorsport competitions, including the Indian Rally Championship, the Raid De Himalayas, Desert Storm, the Mughal Rally and the Autocross and Speed Sprints, and has been a part of the Mercedez Benz Luxe Drive in 2016, and an instructor at the Porsche Test Run hosted by the Porsche Center, Gurugram in 2017.
Garima talked about the thrill of sitting behind the wheel, going neck to neck against the best that the rallying world has to offer. Her journey being one of the only women in a sport that has, since its inception, been dominated by men. Her story – ‘The Way I Did’ was both thrilling and inspiring.
Others who spoke at the day-long event included Sriram Raghavan, Director, IBM Research India, Amitabh Mall, Partner & Director at the Boston Consulting Group; Abhineet Sonkar, Design Thinking & Innovation practice Lead, HCL Technologies in Europe, Asia & Australia; Bianca Ghose, Corporate Storyteller, Shreya Soni, Founder, Delhi Secret Supper Club (DSSC). In between fillers of TED Talk videos were screened. One very interesting among these was about a sanitary pad revolutionary from India – Arunachalam Muruganantham He is the inventor of a low-cost sanitary pad making machine.
Souful Singing and Smashing Poetry Slam
The event had soulful singing by Amartya Ghosh and Slam poetry by Sonal Sharma (Sex Talk fame). Both the artists had the house mesmerized with their craft. At the event, Amartya rendered Remple Tun, Room and couple of other songs with breathy vocals accompanied by guitar. Amartya Ghosh notably has recently released his debut EP ‘Broken Compass’.
Delhi based Spoken Word artist, Sonal Sharma is an established Poet in the Delhi Poetry Circle. She finds Poetry as a tool to change the Society. Her poem called ‘The Inappropriate Poem’ has garnered over 100k views on YouTube. Sonal’s ‘unpunctuated poetry’ on the shame of periods blew us away. Hats off girl!
And that’s a wrap!