About 200 odd Delhi elites attended the first TEDxDelhi on Sunday, 1st Aug 2010 at the India Habitat Center. I did too, in the capacity of being a TED Fellow, thankfully to some of us they gave complimentary passes otherwise the ticket cost ranges from INR 1500 to 2500.

TED conferences are costly, we all know it. That’s exactly why they came up with the TED Fellows program. In my brief conversations with some of the attendees I realized many, in fact most, don’t know about the TED Fellows program. Since this report is about yesterday’s event I will not digress from the topic but will soon write about what exactly is ‘TED Fellows.’ As of now I will just say that I think ‘TEDx License rules’ should perhaps make it mandatory for a license holder to briefly mention about the TED Fellows program at any time during their TEDx conferences. That’s how the word will spread.

So what is TEDx?

Many also don’t know about TEDx. And that was one of the biggest challenges that TEDxDelhi licensee Feroz Gujral faced when she set out for it. Though her attempt to joke about it failed miserably with me and left a bad taste right at the opening of the conference.

TEDx are independently organized TED-like events where a small local group can share TED videos or invite their own speakers to share great ideas. Anybody with an interest to organize such an event can apply to become a TEDx licensee. TED has no direct stake at such events except that the licensee is expected to adhere to certain guidelines on Logo use and funds etc. The content of such an event largely depends on the local organizers independent of TED.

In that regard I am quite impressed and delighted with the choice of speakers at the TEDxDelhi, if I can put it in one word, diversity was the word for TEDxDelhi. The topics were as varied as glaciers, sarees, hunger, flower, river pollution, human energy, temple construction, dress design, sound waves, erotica, patriotism and more.

Below I present a summary of some of my favorite talks in no particular order from TEDxDelhi

Chewang Norphel on Artificial Glacier

He is a retired civil engineer, currently the project manager of a Ladakh based NGO ‘Leh Nutrition Project’ and he builds artificial glaciers in the valley to solve the village’s water shortage problems. Now, shake off that image you just built of him in your head. His simplicity and humility is unreal and his smile is surprisingly warm for a man coming from the cold Ladakh valley. Scientists, environmentalists and water conservationists all over the world also fondly call him the ‘glacier man’ or the ‘ice man’ of India.

‘Artificial glaciers’ invented by Mr. Norphel is a network of pipes which are used to capture and channelize  precious snowmelt that otherwise would be wasted. The technique is simple and relatively cheap to build and the beauty of this task is that Mr. Norphel engages the villagers in building these artificial glaciers so that they have a sense of ownership to it. So far Norphel has helped the villagers construct five such artificial glaciers to increase water supplies in their villages, especially for crop irrigation. Several more are being planned.

Mr. Norphel closed his talk by humbly submitting that his English expression is not so great so perhaps he couldn’t explain the process fully, so he gave an open invitation to anybody and everybody to visit the valley and see the glaciers themselves. I for one am sure going to do that.

Devin Narang on Human energy

Mr. Narang spoke about consumer items such as torch, radio, lantern etc which run not on electricity or battery but on human energy. As examples he displayed few of these products on stage. A torch, with a four inch long handle which if rotated for 2 mins, can give light of approximately 15 min. A small transistor FM radio which also runs on a similar mechanism. These products are invented by a London based company called Freeplay Energy. The uniqueness of this talk was not so much in the products displayed but more in the profile of Mr. Narang, born in one of India’s oldest and most reputed industrial family, he sold off his liquor business to become a social entrepreneur and acquired Freeplay so that the product can reach the villages of India where there is no electricity.

Vir Bhadra Mishra on River Ganga

He completely bowled me over with his strange balance between scientific rationality and unabashed faith. He is a former head of the civil engineering department of Benaras Hindu University where he taught Hydraulic Engineering, today he is the chief priest of the Sankat Mochan Temple and also the founding president of the Sankat Mochan Foundation. His deep faith in his religion and culture induces love and respect for river Ganga, which is considered as the holy river in Hindu culture. And his scientific education compels him to see the pollution the river is facing today and thus gives him the zeal and determination to do something about him. His foundation have been trying to clean up the Ganga in collaboration with various Government and Non-Government agencies. The most striking part of his speech was when he called out the youth to love and respect river Ganga and take up the cause to clean it.

More about him on Time and Wikipedia

Shabnam Virmani on The Kabir Project

This happens to be one of my favourite talk for the beautiful Kabir song that Shabnam sang, I hope the organizers have done the recording and it will be available somewhere soon. Shabnam is an artiste and a documentary film maker. She is the founder of Drishti Media which believes that this world could be very different if every marginalized community had a media of their own. That’s exactly the same thought I had when I first ideated the Blogging Outreach Project. Its surprising how small the world can sometimes be, I know Shabnam through Vinayak when he did a photography project with Srishti School of Arts. Then I found about Drishti Media through Joint Leap Technologies where I gave a talk on Social media for non profits.

Coming back to her talk, it was mainly about the Kabir Project she is currently working on. To quote from their website, “The Kabir project brings together the experiences of a series of ongoing journeys in quest of this 15th century North Indian mystic poet in our contemporary worlds. Started in 2003, these journeys inquire into the spiritual and socio-political resonances of Kabir’s poetry through songs, images and conversations.”

Her talk was quite heart wrenching especially for the beautiful song she sang and at one point, when she mentioned about how once the whole audience in a Sufi festival organized by her was in tears, I had a lump in my throat as well. I am an atheist but I can see why Kabir is followed by people of all religion alike, and by believers and non-believers alike.

Rita Kapur Chisti on The Saris of India

With Rita on stage there was a gush of laughter, energy, charm and beauty at TEDxDelhi. Standing behind a curtain of splendid saris (held by two girls on each end and stretched across), Rita fiddled and dropped the microphone a few times making us laugh all the while she explained the different style of saris of India. How saris from different parts of India have different weaving patterns, different styles of draping them and different purposes of wearing. One of my prized moment from her talk was when  she mentioned that the way modern Indian women wear a sari was actually invented by Jnadanandini Devi a daughter in law of the Tagore household, wife of Satyandranath Tagore. She with support from her husband, who happens to be the first Indian to join the Civil Services, became one of the earliest proponents of women liberation in Bengal.

Rita’s talk not only made me fall in love all over again with the wonder garment, the Indian Sari, but also opened a door to the women of Tagore household. As I researched further, I found and ended up buying this book by Chitra Dev called ‘Women of the Tagore Household’. More on that book later.

Anuj Sharma on Button Masala

I am guessing Button Masala is derived, for no particular reason, from  Butter Masala a popular cooking style, I mostly noted in southern India like paneer butter masala or chicken butter masala. Anuj is a fashion designer and his talk had nothing to do with food. It was all about buttons and button holes. This innovative designer thought one fine day ‘hey, how about buttons.’ And then he went on making numerous dresses just out of buttons and button holes. Not just dress he made bags, head scarf and what not. From button he moved on to rubber bands and a few more weird stuff. The main funda behind buttons and rubber bands is to make these dresses stich free so that they can be altered as per the shape, size and style of the person wearing it. You merely shift a button hole from one button to another and you have a different length of the tunic. Anuj has an amazing sense of humor that is very subtle and unassuming. The way he kept changing the shape and size of the dress that the Mannequin wore and the funny reasons he gave, every body naturally laughed, and then he paused and very innocently said, “It is not funny why are you all laughing?” And the audience laughed all the more.

You’ve got to see his talk to believe me. Here’s an article from the Lakme Fashion Week, you might wanna read it, but then you’ve got to really see his talk to understand. I hope its soon up somewhere. I will link to it as soon as it is up.

Naman Ahuja on Eroticism in ancient Indian culture

This was a very interesting talk, I didn’t expect to hear on subject such as ‘eroticism’ at TED and am very pleased that the organizers came up with a panel of speakers which was so inclusive.

I don’t remember the details of the talk but he mainly spoke on the existence of eroticism, sexual voyeurism et all in the ancient Indian culture which was outside the realm of religion. The Kamasutra he mentioned was not a religious scripture, it was rather a collection of sexual practice already prevalent that time. There are many interpretation to the erotic art we have in our temples but what Naman wanted to focus is that not all of them had a spiritual higher purpose. They were perhaps quite simply just the earliest versions of porn. For eg. He showed the pic of a teracotta plate which had a carving of a sexual union between a man and a woman. What is notice worthy is that the people in the act are not looking at each other but looking at us the audience. So basically it was not about their union with each other but about the audience’ gaze.

Naveen Jindal on Tiranga obsession

Somewhere around the lunch time, tiny packets made of tri-color paper, with ‘Naveen Jindal, Member of Parliament’ printed on them, were distributed amongst the TEDxDelhi attendees. It contained a small metallic tri-colored pin.  When I got mine, I thought there you have the politicians with their agendas. I took out the badge from the packet, looked at it for a while and kept it back in my goody bag. By the time Mr. Jindal reached towards the end of his speech, I fumbled through my good bag, pulled out the badge and wore it. And I saw everybody around me doing exactly the same. His talk about his love for the national flag was just so powerful.

You all would remember since independence until recently Indian citizens were not allowed to fly the national flag just here and there. We were allowed to fly it only on certain days, like Independence Day and Republic Day, and at certain places, like government buildings and Courts. Well Mr. Jindal fought it out at the Courts for about 14 years and obtained for us, the right to fly the national flag with respect at our homes, office desks, car dashborads or to wear it on the T-shirt  etc. His TEDx talk was all about this journey of his obsession for the Tiranga and the fight for the right to fly it. Read more about it on ‘Flag Foundation of India‘ There is an exhaustive list of dos and donts for those who want to fly the flag.

I liked the talk so much that for a minute there I was ready to forget his ridiculous support for the Khap Panchayats and his even more ridiculous public statements and behaviour in that regard. You will find out all about him on his website. Here, I am linking to some of the latest news stories related to his support for Khap Panchayats. Read, TOI, NDTV, Calamur

Love for Tiranga is great, I already had a Tri color on my car dashboard but Khap Panchayat’s Mr. Jindal?