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-Navpreet Singh

The bright sunny afternoon of Saturday, 25 February was awaiting another bright event TEDxJaipur 2017 in one of the oldest luxury hotels of Jaipur – Clarks Amer. Its conference hall was all decked up in the hues of red and white with large red X greeting at the entrance. People had started arriving an hour in advance to ensure a good seat for a focused view of the speakers. Their waiting time was a bit elongated due to the anticipation of some VIPs and speakers but audience was thoroughly engaged in the pretty slideshow running on the stage. It was a compilation of some of the most amusing, beautiful and witty pictures of TEDx events from across the globe.

Two anchors soon stepped up to address the audience and that’s when a surge of happiness went through. An event most of us had seen just on YouTube hitherto was now going to begin live. A brief overview of what is TEDx and what is TEDxAnchor Program was shown by a short video.

TEDx – It’s an independently organized event at anywhere in the world, curating its own set of speakers and talks just based on TED’s format and rules

TEDxAnchorProgram – Strategically partnered with Infosys, it’s a 2-year, 14-city pilot program in India to work closely with TEDx events and organizers in providing personalized support, fostering civic engagement at the local level and ultimately helping to build more connected communities

These short videos contributed in preparing the audience for what’s coming next. They were now like activated neurons, ready to gulp in ideas worth sharing.

Harsh Songra

It started with the youngest speaker – Harsh Songra who talked about his own life struggle when he was diagnosed with dyspraxia and suffered a setback in school and daily life. It took his parents 9 years to realize this was actually a developmental disorder. He doesn’t blame them but the general lack of awareness and overdue of fear in society. Like it was pointed out in Dear Zindagi movie that people are often scared to say they are seeing a psychiatrist even though it’s for a disease of mind like any other disease. He anyway undertook a determined effort and started building a product that could contribute to the cause. He built an app named My Child App that helps parents diagnose any strange behaviour in the kids. What his parents could do in 9 years, this app can enable in just 10 seconds. It would help in early diagnosis of any mental or developmental disorder of a child. An entire community of such children and their parents have come together to form We, Included. To share stories, tips and lessons. He now manages this community and knows 14 programming languages himself.

Mallika Ahluwalia in JaipurNext up was Mallika Ahluwalia – the founder of Partition Museum in Amritsar who began with rolling us back to history showing how India-Pakistan partition was the biggest migration in history. It displaced millions of people from their houses and thousands lost their lives. Story of a lost girl waiting to be reunited with her family, story of a woman who lost her father and got separated from her family, how she has still kept the relics as souvenirs. Everyone listened intently to all the stories. Being shared by real victims, the listeners were contemplating the tales their own grandparents told them. A feeling of nostalgia came with a story of a happy old man sharing an anecdote of his youth life. A Google advertisement which showed how two childhood friends from India and Pakistan met each other using Google search. Ending the talk with such hope, Mallika showed a ‘hall of hope’ built inside the museum where people can put handwritten cards with their favourite positive quotes like symbols of remembrance. After all, she believes it is a people’s effort to revive people’s history.

Manisha Koirala in JaipurNext up was a familiar face Manisha Koirala who shared how she had tasted the success of being a beautiful actress, giving hit movies, getting Filmfare Awards and being in the news. But slowly lost her fame by controversies and back-to-back movies that didn’t go well at box office. This made her behaviour change for the worse. Foul acts with bad company. Such careless promiscuous behaviour affected her personal and professional life. She was divorced and a few months later, diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Losing hair due to chemotherapy wasn’t a tough time for her but signing a disclaimer for any effects to heart failure, ear malfunction and neuron motor inactivity was. The stillness in her voice showed made the audience feel that emotion. She recalled how a doctor named Navneet Narula from Cornell university sat beside her bed every Sunday with the only hope that Manisha would do this to some other patient some day. When she recovered, this thought prevailed with her and she took on the role of a social activist and UNFPA Goodwill Ambassador. Helped the victims of Nepal earthquake crisis and worked for protecting women’s rights, helping them fight violence and trafficking. She believes in three basic principles overall –

  1. Life is a gift
    Everything that you experience and come across is a gift. Cherish it and learn something from it.
  2. Power of introspection
    Always respect yourself and be mindful of your thoughts. Reflect and introspect. Recognize your inner powers. Make yourself strong and healthy.
  3. Write your own story
    Never be disheartened from negative experiences and always try to turn them into positive anecdotes. Positivity can cross oceans and negatives can pop up puddles.

Major General G. D. Bakshi had to be up next for a run-through of the recent India Pakistan relationship in respect to the dispute of Jammu & Kashmir. He unfortunately couldn’t make it due to a weak health but sent across his views with a bold voice in a short video. He threw light on the scene at Kashmir valley where only a few pockets of districts aggressively wanted to merge with Pakistan while the rest of the Kashmir including Hindu families and other indigenous people who would be ripped of their cultures and rights if blended with Pak. They were happy being a part of the nation who protected them for years and proud of being close of soldiers who had guarded their boundaries. He had been apologetic for not being in person to meet us and share his strong opinions but his personalized words for TEDxJaipur made up for it.

Harpreet SinghAfter such a mix of intense thoughts, feelings and ideas, it was time for some heartening session. The stage was set for Harpreet Singh – a contemporary independent musician, who began his life in a small village, born in a farmer family. At a young age, tried his hands on a keyboard when his father bought one at home. Growing up, not being in a financial condition to afford a better one, he bought a sitar instead. Played and taught himself, not knowing that soon college students would come over to for guitar lessons from him. Quite amusingly, he himself had no clue why people played guitar. Out of curiosity, he asked them to buy better ones and tried playing them, subconsciously feeling delighted to play a rich instrument. After own stints, he made way for some formal education at Delhi and trained in formal Hindustani classical music. Post this, he had been in awe of great poets and their thoughtful poems written in Hindi, Urdu or Punjabi, bringing them to the present audience in a light singing way. His soft voice and charming demeanour brings more grace to the poems he sings rather than recites.

The sessions paused for a high tea break where people stepped out with a heart full of emotions and mind full of thoughts, with an urge to share them with other attendees. While some clicked selfies at the Infosys photo booth, others picked out little black cards to avail fresh fruit juices by Frooce. The light refreshments helped in rejuvenation for the next session.

Shreiya Chaudhary

Next speaker was Shreiya Chaudhary who had used IoT (Internet of Things) in creative items like dog heartbeat tracker, dry clothe singaller, automatic feeder for fish and other such projects. Her presentation was funny and adding on to it, the order got messed up. She was such a sport and tackled it with humor to a point where it seemed like a comedy performance. She had pursued English honours as a formal education but after an idea popped up, she started learning programming languages and building her own products. She worked with Arduino, HTML5, Raspberry Pi, API integration, Python among other programming languages, devices and softwares. Do what you love doing and you’ll never have to work again. This time last year decided to become a creative technologist and in the past one year, she has realised the value of loving what you do or doing what you love. Every day, she aimed to surprise her own self and kept a firm belief in her idea. To the question asked by hostess, she replied that technology can be used in good ways as well. Thus sending out a message to constructively and creatively innovate with the use of technology.

Jagdeep ChhokarA senior speaker Jagdeep Chhokar was up next to talk about politics and democracy. People tend to vote for a candidate who has a decent chance to win. These are just 2-3. They get the ticket which is a nomination or support from a political party they are representing. Therefore, people vote for a person who has already been chosen by a political party. Choice of a voter is pre-constrained by the choices made by a set of political parties. Thereby, whom we can vote for is controlled by political parties in a way. Now once a person is elected, another story begins. This voted representative can vote against a bill that comes to state assembly or parliament. But his vote cannot go against the will of the party he belongs to. According to Constitution, such an act can cause his termination. So choice of this representative is controlled by the choices made by the political party. If you combine aforementioned propositions, political party is the common link. The Unseen is the power of political party. India is the largest democracy in the world and if compared to other countries of the world, it is in much better shape than other democracies. But are political parties are internally democratic? They are supposedly pillars of democracy of our country. On these pillars stand the vibrant structure of democracy. But these pillars are hollow. That’s why we blame the government. The way to good governance is internal democracy of political parties. They aren’t being so because it is risky. Risky in winning the elections. Lakhs of rupees are spent in election campaigns to win votes. That itself shows people haven’t chosen the person as their representative. Unless we as citizens take our roles and responsibilities seriously and take the power from political parties into our own, democratic conditions can’t be made better.

Nidhi ChaphekarAfter understanding the nuances of democratic rule clearly, everyone felt empowered to take elections seriously or cast NOTA (none of the above) option to make political parties take informed decisions in choosing a representative. Next up was Nidhi Chaphekar who is a survivor of the Brussels Airport terror attack. She had gone from home, telling her kids she would be back after 5 days but it took months. That horrendous incident shook her world. The impact of the blast was so powerful that she was thrown away a few feet away. The light, noise and chaos was so overpowering that it felt like sun, lightning and thunder had hit together. Her subconscious mind was waking her up. But all she could see was smoke and fumes. With cries and blood. She couldn’t move her body, the pain was piercing. She was numb, asking herself how could a human do such an inhuman unpleasant activity. She was trying to stop the heavy bleeding from her left leg because she was afraid it could result in something grievous. It took her nearly 3 hours to reach the hospital. Throughout kept herself calm and kept speaking to herself so as to not lose consciousness. On reaching the hospital, doctors rushed towards her and after knowing what had happened to her, she didn’t want to live anymore. She wasn’t even sure what shape or form she would be in even if survived. Doctors performed many surgeries and removed 47 metal pieces from her body. After a few days in critical conditions, she was airlifted to another hospital where more surgeries took place along with multiple skin grafting procedures. To remove the remaining metal debris remaining in her body including a 2-inch long one on right ankle. Her situation was getting serious by the day – oxygen requirement increasing, temperature rising, infection level increasing, parameters fluctuating. After 23 days of being in coma, she was up. But failed to notice anyone. After a few days, she recognized her husband, sister & brother-in-law.  Along with a desire to meet her children. Doctors told her she won’t be able to go back. But she was determined and self-motivated. But broke down the instant she saw her face in the mirror. Unrecognizable. Burn marks, patches and scars. She was horrified and thought about how she would face others when she couldn’t face herself. But my family was supportive enough to make me realize “Beauty is not what you see in the mirror, beauty is what you feel inside.” She embraced strength over weakness, forgiveness over revenge and courage over fear. She got a second life and it had to have a reason. With a purpose of inspiring others, she set out on a journey to spread positivity. Almighty’s grace and her grit made her recovery time shortened to 20 days. Once discharged from hospital, she was advised to keep nurse for all dependent tasks. But she was determined and confident to do everything by herself even when chances of infection were very high. But she dressed her wounds by herself without any complications for next 3 months. She attempted walking but pain was unbearable. But she didn’t sit back. Within a few months time, she started walking like any other human being. It’s 20% of medicines and 80% of willpower & faith that gives 100% recovery. Plant seeds of love, peace, faith and compassion.

Vikas AgnihotriVikas Agnihotri, a digital storyteller from Google shared interesting and amusing data trends of how people use Google Search. Like the searches of “How to convert black money to white” surged after the announcement of demonetisation and “how to kiss” surged during the Valentine’s Week. Modi got searched more than Trump. “What is brexit”, “what is eu” got tremendously searched in UK during Brexit time. Their own people who had to vote were not even aware of its existence. Jio broke all records in its searches and due to the advent of free internet, consumption of YouTube increased, with Beauty & Fitness and Bollywood being the most popular.

After this interval, it was time for the last session that opened up with Ajit Sharma, organizer of TEDxJaipur thanking all the partners, volunteers and attendees. Infosys who sponsored the event and is supporting all TEDx Anchor Program in India. MTLB with whose help tickets got sold out online days before the event. Everdata for providing technical services and Clarks Amer for hosting everybody at their beautiful Brij convention center.

Ophelie and EleonoreNext talk was to be given by a speaker duo – Ophelie and Eleonore – two French girls who migrated base to India to set up a venture, to help tourists explore the city better by wandering through narrow streets of old Jaipur and eating at old popular food spots. They were bombarded by a lot of questions – first from their families and friends in France and afterwards, from people in Jaipur who were astonished they shifted here. It entailed a long stream of answers and explanations trying to carve out a place for their personal and professional lives in a foreign land. On arriving to Jaipur, they saw forts, monuments and several historical spots in the old city. Some streets were damp and dirty and some were too narrow & cramped. Some had monkeys while others had pigs or dogs. But in each lane, they noticed something unique and that was the beauty of the experience. They could think of many other tourists who may have missed or cringed from entering these areas, taking them as turn-offs. Everybody enjoyed the magnificent architecture of palaces and forts but very few may have gone through the actual lanes of early Jaipur that contained its real essence. Recalling the cycle-guided tours in Europe, they had an idea of incorporating them here as well, owing to the pollution and space problem. So begun the exploration of streets every morning – how houses open, how household chores start, how stalls set up, what snacks cook first, who comes in after night shift and who rushes to early morning walk, sounds of water-steam-utensils-motors – the raw reality of suburban life. They sought help of local volunteers who bridged the communication gap when talking to regular people. There were times when it continued till late morning hours – traffic increased, jostled with the impatient cars and bikes, got scared & sidelined at first but gradually learnt the tolerant and snappy way of swirling the cycles through the jam. They even got through long stares, heavy glances and misbehaviour at times. That could scare them to quit this and return to safe lives back in France. But they kept calm, smiled and waved at the people we saw. Soon everyone around them started recognizing and welcoming. Time passed and the word spread across. More tourists and volunteers came up. Business grew and they realized shifting to India had become successful.

Laxmi Agarwal Next was the most awaited talk – thart of Laxmi Agarwal who shared her heart-wrenching tale of survival after an acid attack and how she has turned her traumatic experience into a motivational recovery story to inspire millions of girls, supports other hundreds of acid attack survivors and help common man wash the ugly image they have formed of these survivors. She refuses to call them victims and holds a determination that her face may be burnt but her dreams and aspirations haven’t. Most of you must have heard about her struggles after she was attacked with acid due to rejecting a love affair. What followed was a series of recovery and a transformation where she gave a platform to bring up all other acid-attack survivors and showed them that they had equal rights to live and breathe as any other human being. She has fled petitions banning the sale of acid openly. She has set up an NGO for their upliftment and a restaurant that’s entirely run by them. Along with various other collaborations that keep ongoing with current events to spread awareness and make people sensitive to this issue rather than run away from it. Her story brought most to tears and everyone gave a standing ovation for the courage, determination and positivity she had shown. It was one of the most powerful and emotional talks of the event.

Next up was the innovator Arun Joshua Cherian who shared his motivation and push behind finding an eco-friendly and sustainable solution for amputees who were otherwise adjusting to inadequately made prosthetic limbs. It all started from discovering that human leg is a spring. Then realizing that cane is a furniture which even bent can sustain our weight when we sit on it. This make him draw a co-relation between cane and leg as spring. If both are springs, why not use cane as a replacement? He approached a carpenter who readily agreed to cut and bend cane in the form a human leg, strong enough to bear an average human’s weight. To test it, he reached a mechanical lab that performed experiments on fibers like cane. They had just the right equipment. After success here, he collaborated with an organization in India that has been making prosthetic limbs for 15 years. A few prototypes were created and one of the users volunteered to try it. Within hours, that boy walked without crutches. Over the next few hours, he was kicking football. Arun realized this was comfortable, light-weight and cost-effective but just not looking like a real leg. People wanted that so they could lead a life camouflaged and not have to give answers to stares. Once it was given a good design and a shape and colour resembling a normal leg, it was time to spread the word across. Many started adopting it and their team was ready to provide any kind of support required. Among the early users, some were marathon runners, body builders (one of whom turned out to become a trainer for able-bodied people)  and sportsmen. Soon going to collaborate with a German company that’s the largest manufacturer of prosthetics. Thousands of people from around the world are now reaching out to them for prosthetics. In India, there are far too less prosthetics to meet the needs. Because the process of getting this is cumbersome, time consuming and fragile, just not scalable for the country. They collaborated with various hospitals and medical institutes to deploy 3D scanning softwares in towns that can enable people to scan their legs and avail one, within days where it took weeks earlier. Taking away a feeling that it’s not too difficult to make an impact, so identify a genuine problem and get to solving it innovatively.

After this, the stage awaited Namit Das and Anurag Shanker who ended the day on a string of soulful Sufi music, sending out a wave of calmness and letting everyone absorb the doses of motivation gathered in the previous hours.

At the dinner side, it was a winding off atmosphere where some people exchanged words and contacts with the speakers while having a sumptuous dinner along the poolside.


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