Narayanan Hariharan, founder of EffectWorks, a presentation design company, offered me a complimentary pass to TEDxKCG. I went with him in his car, which also had his colleague-friend Gokul insisting we finish two idlis and one coffee before we reach KCG College of Engineering. But Narayanan didn’t give into his demand.
At the registration desk, we were given a tag to wear and if you registered early, it had your photograph. A small paper bag had a t-shirt, a speaker booklet, a copy of BREW magazine, and a CD that was called Sapta, a musical album of Marti Bharath. A slight wow! escapes your tongue as you walk into the “audi” (as one student would call it). At 9-30, Sameer Bharath Ram requests you to have another round of coffee. At ten, the show begins and when it ends a little before six, you feel you had a good day.
First, whoever drew the speaker list on the theme “Ekavira, Be Original, Be Different” deserves rich compliments. The speakers were as diverse as they could be and of a certain accomplishment in their lives that they can proudly wear on their shoulder to inspire others.
Solo warriors whom you can call entrepreneurs
Yuvaraj Pandian (aka Yuvi Panda) talks this and that about not being a zombie. A dictionary look-up says zombie is “a person thought to resemble the so-called walking dead.” He was poking fun at all of us who went to college to study and finish a degree, who sat with friends and went to a movie that they suggested, and wore the same shoes that a friend said was nice. He said zombies don’t think on their own and that’s why free will is a scarce commodity in this country. For a man who wrote codes when he was nine and got to see Internet at fourteen, saying all this seemed appropriate. He has slipped out of college for a year and has already worked with Vivek and Hari for Interview Street, now a Y Combinator Silicon Valley startup. Liberate yourself, Yuvi seemed to suggest but is there a rewind button in life? The youngistan in the crowd could try half of what Yuvi said with all its attendant effects. He has dared to succeed.
Ashwin Ramesh, the youngest CEO when he was fifteen and now twenty-one, walked in with the same irreverence with which he ignored a university degree, a “job” and helped himself to a million dollars when he was eighteen. He candidly mixed Tamil with English without caring for whether some in the audience would understand Tamil like the same way he didn’t care for security of life. He played man! He wanted to develop a game server and found inventive ways to do it like registering a domain name and then selling it. He had fun and found success knocking his doors. Who wants a degree when you are there already without it? At twenty-one, he is bent upon developing products. By the time he finished, I guess many in the audience would have pinched their skin. Was it a tale or a true story? For a country that loves film stars and cricketers, an entrepreneur without education tasting success is an odd thing. But odd things keep happening without notice. Had he been in a Silicon Valley, Ashwin would have become a poster boy of the Stanford and Harvard graduates. No comparisons but still you can’t help it when we keep watching the idiot box despite knowing on the fifth day that all wickets are going to tumble down and we are losing.
Paul “Holy” Basil, as Sameer Bharat Ram would call him and I didn’t ask why, lamented that social innovations attract only $500 million as the maximum fund for late-stage ventures. He is no stranger to YourStory and we know how much he has done for the social entrepreneurship ecosystem. He showcased eight innovations that Villgro has seen rise from concept to execution to commercialization or scale. He insisted that an ecosystem should be built around social entrepreneurs becoming angel investors and mentors like in the technology industry we are seeing today. It may not be a far-fetched dream as social sector is seeing vibrant activity. Hope is our eternal companion.
The entrepreneur profile had one more speaker—Preetha Pulusani, CEO of Deep Target. She listed the reasons why innovation is not being pursued in India when 25% of the immigrant founders in the Silicon Valley (in which 52% of the companies have one immigrant cofounder) have been able to contribute to US economy. She took us through the Prithvi missile, an innovation from India, apart from many others such as yoga in the second century.
Dance and music
Anita Ratnam, for whom labels such as dancer, actor, entrepreneur, goddess lore interpreter, culture warrior, and mother are only pointers and never a description of her complete self, enthralled the audience with an artistic performance for 17 and half minutes. I felt I was in an arts carnival. Such was the transporting effect. Calling three women in her life—her grandmother Saraswathi, her mother Leelavathi and her daughter Aryambika—as equivalents of three women goddesses Lakshmi, Saraswathi and Parvathi, she expressed emotions and feelings, thoughts and lifestyles, and what not, about the three women that words wouldn’t be capable of saying. Her grandmother sailed through 50 years after her grandfather’s death, and her insistent mother—“Stop dreaming about boys, Anita!”—is the reason what she is today. Focus, focus, focus on dance, French, music and all others, said her mother. Her regret was evident as her daughter is not taking to dance but does every other thing a teen does nowadays, including Facebook updates. An enchanting empress who ruled the stage for that brief while disembarked with grace.
George Mathew, founder of Ubuntu Shruti orchestra, had choir singers demonstrate how group singing is delivered. He asked the front row singers to turn back and still demonstrate the same effect as they sang seeing the group in front. The many voices that a choir generates was beautifully demonstrated.
“Life as an art” talk-cum-performance by Edward Degenro (on guitar) and Ujjayine Roy (vocal) gave us the beautiful side of art in engaging with life. Ujjayine’s talk was one thing and her singing was another. Her aggressive talk (on fighting, being blunt, and restlessness in corporate job for seven years) softened to melodious music on singing. Prompted by Sameer Bharat Ram as Marti Bharath was setting up stage, she sang one more time.
Twenty-two-year-old Marti Bharath had more to his sound engineering skills apart from voice and instruments that dished out a sort of “farewell TEDxKCG 2012” music—lively, foot-tapping, emotive. He wore decorated shirt, with electric light. The combined effect of music and light (on his shirt) was a different experience for us used to seeing singers singing without those fancies. Common, he is twenty-two and has right to fun.
Wear revolution on your attitude. Dr. N. Kumarasamy, leave out his labels, has done a phenomenal service to society by reducing mortality due to AIDS. He insists that AIDS is a better disease than diabetes, which places restrictions on food. AIDS is no longer life-threatening and Dr. Kumarasamy has done it in Chennai with antiretroviral drugs, saving lives.
Look Auroville. Uma Prajapathi, the fashion designer, didn’t see her life in a grand label. Instead she focused on human suffering to express her art. Her tsunamika art that she gave away free to tsunami victims was touching. Hailing from Bihar, her art found expressions in the suffering of cotton farmers (in a country when 46 farmers still commit suicide every day) that she wears only organic dress. A Gandhi inside her, you wonder.
Dharmesh Jadeja, an architect and calligraphist, looks towards village homes to restorative architecture. From Gujarat’s unfound place on the map perhaps, Dharmesh has travelled far and wide but still his heart resides in the villages.
Aesthetics and concern
Sebastian Cortés brings beauty to faces, places, and surroundings through his photography. Some were exotic and some realistic. Capturing lives and smiles, places and poets, emotions and decay, Cortés is telling a story perhaps that words can’t tell.
Mansoor Khan, the famous director who made Aamir Khan and Juhi Chawla and also Qayamat Se and Qayamat Thak, wore an economic professor hat. Sustainability and growth according to reality was his plank. He found dissonances in thinking and policy on the assumption that resources are available on the same scale as ever. Instead, he says the resources peak in availability and slowly decline to be available. If growth was to happen on the assumption that resources, importantly oil, will be available at the same rate as ever, it would be skewed, as oil is not available at the same rate for ever. It slowly becomes less available after a peak availability.
A collective experience of daring entrepreneurship, free will thinking, personal activism, beauty of art and music, igniting a caring for sustainability, and food with people to network, if it were to happen, it happened at TEDxKCG.
—Venkatesh Krishnamoorthy, chief evangelist