What’s the big idea?

The last few days have been hot and dreary, spent at work, awaiting a storm that never arrived, yet added more stress to one’s daily routine. Friday (June 4) was different; Cyclone Phet did not arrive, but Cyclone TEDx (x= independently organised) did. And am I bowled over or what? On Friday, I was exposed to a storm of positivity, the kind of which I had never experienced before. I left the conference blazing like the sun, I felt not just light-headed but now, I believe. I believe in the power of an idea and how it can reshape everything.

Let me explain: TED, short for Technology, Entertainment and Design, was established by the Sapling Foundation which is a private non-profit run by Chris Anderson. Anderson is an entrepreneur who started a publishing company. TED provides a platform for “ideas worth spreading,” with talks by worthy, inspiring speakers from all walks of life, ranging from bravery, gaming, social reform or any other act or invention that represents something unique, something successful and which can act as a harbinger of positive change. Past TED speakers include Al Gore as well as  Bill Gates and Steve Jobs – which gives you an idea of the magnitude and scale of the conference.

Friday’s event was not organised by TED itself, but by TED fellows Asad Rehman, Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy and Dr Awab Alvi while the event was managed by Meher Jafferi and Hiba Ali Raza. After almost two months of tireless work, TEDx presented an event with the goal to introduce TED to the Pakistani society with the theme “What Pakistan Needs Now,” to set off a spark that can inspire and lead to greater things. Held at the South End Club, attendance was by invite only, with about 350 people invited. Usually, TED takes care to invite people from all spheres of life and activity especially those that are considered conduits to change and ideas. The event was also streamed live via the internet, and if the following on Twitter can be taken as record, it was watched by many across the world and in Pakistan.

TEDx started at about 3:30 p.m. in Karachi and featured two sessions of three speakers each with 18 minutes to each speaker. The stage was a lovely black backdrop featuring different pictures of historical and important sites from all across Pakistan with music from Coke Studio. The curator of TED, Chris Anderson led the event with his opening talk and the customary “Go” as proceedings started. From then on we were enthralled by speaker after speaker, as well as two video TED talks from the past TED conferences. We were basically un-taught the barriers which we and society impose on our minds and learnt to let our thoughts go free.

Asad Umar, the CEO of Engro, spoke of the enormous potential and capacity of the coal reserves in Thar and explained that four per cent of it can generate 4000 MW’s for the country’s use. Monis Rehman showed us how mapping was created in and for Pakistan on the internet. And after a tea break, Kashf Foundation’s Roshaneh Zafar explained the amazing potential of microfinance, concluding her talk with a rendition of the national anthem, for which the audience rose and joined in. If you think this was emotional, it was just the beginning.

Next up was Joshinder Chaggar who performed a modern dance act. Subsequently, Jill Bolte Taylor told us of her struggle to understand how her schizophrenic brother’s mind works in comparison to others. With tears rolling down her face, she also spoke of the stroke she suffered and how it took her eight years to understand some concepts of the metaphysical world which people like Rumi wrote about as she drifted between the individual and the collective essence of her consciousness.

For me, the highlight of the evening was the screening of a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, who spoke of creativity and how it should not be allowed to damage oneself. As a writer I could relate to what she was saying when she spoke of feeling an energy coursing through oneself, and the need to put it on paper. Of how it feels to have something inside you which wants to break free. She mentioned a great American poet who lived in Virginia, who actually saw poems flying to her and felt that she could grab them and process them by preserving them on paper. Yes, some of this may seem like madness, but this is how people feel sometimes. That said, it is not necessary to create. According to Gilbert, the effects of this kind of behaviour were the cause of the multitude of manic depressive deaths of creative people.  Her talk literally opened my eyes to how the romanticism of creativity can lead to difficulties and conflict in one’s soul.

I wish there were more events like this in our country, more forces that gave us positive energy rather then the negative ones we are always surrounded by. It would help a lot more people here if we learnt how interconnected we all are. For instance, I learnt through this event that the concept of ” Wajd” that Sufis sometimes go under when chanting God’s name was taken by the Moors to Spain, and transformed into calls of ‘Ole, ole’ over time. When Spaniards shout ‘Ole!’, then, they are describing something so superb that it could only come from divine inspiration. This does not mean we have to divulge from any of our traditions or religious norms, but rather just sit down, understand that we all need some good will and peace, and let it wash over us and unite us so that we can go forth and change the world through our ideas.

The feeling gained from attending this TEDx can best be described by what the little winner of the children’s contest in TEDx, Ali Kapadia (no relation to me), said in his video:

“I wish there was a robot that could end all evil, capture all thieves and give chocolates to India.” Well Ali, for all our sakes, I hope your dream comes true.


As published in “The Dawn Blog” on 7/6/2010

  1. Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift.

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  3. Hello! Well done. That was a interesting article. I would like to hear more about this interesting topic. Will be in touch. Greetings from Latvia.

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