Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TEDx: Teaching us to Rise Above

(Image credit: TEDx Karachi)

Khudi ko kar buland itna kay har taqdeer say pehlay khuda banday say yeh khud poochay bata teri raza kya hai – Allama Muhammad Iqbal

I had always heard of TEDx but until I walked in to the Arts Council on Saturday September 27, 2014 I never knew what to expect.  

"The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials" -- Chinese Proverb

Indeed human beings exhibit their best when the going gets tough. In our darkest hour, we have to learn to light the candle and the ten individuals who spoke shared the experiences that have shaped their lives. The most-anticipated talks of the evening were Sania Saeed, Tina Sani and former CPLC chief Jameel Yusuf. However, before the day was over I discovered that there were many unsung heroes about whom I had no idea.  The event MC, Umair Jaliawala, kept the audience engaged throughout with witty humor and excellent introductions.

The evening was kicked off by entrepreneur Naeem Zamindar who did not talk about his adventures in Corporate life or the world of Venture Capitalism but instead led the audience through several meditation exercises. He stated that he had taken a course called ‘Art of Living’ that changed his life. I will be honest, I was not too crazy about his guided meditation and he did not do much to keep my interest and I found amusement in seeing others experience their inner souls. Nonetheless, not a bad start to the show with some funny bits that reminded me of PE practice back in my school days.

After the appetizer was over, the main course got me hooked. This young man is a personal friend but I had never seen him speak in public. I am talking about photographer extraordinaire Mobeen Ansari and the minute he started speaking, all eyes were glued to the stage. He relayed about how he was diagnosed with meningitis at birth and it affected his sense of smell and hearing.

He truly spoke from the heart as she showed us photographs of his journeys all over Pakistan, his book, Dharkan: The Heartbeat of a Nation, that chronicled our country’s icons and heroes and some people we overlook. An interesting photograph was a reunion of Aamir Zaki and Alamgir after 30 long years. I loved this guy, and he just mesmerized the audience with each of his photographs.
Moving on, Rabia Aziz-Rizvi came on stage to talk about her young daughter who was born with Apert Syndrome and how she became her child’s voice. She became her normal and showed that there is more than love a child needs to be accepted and how she showed through her daughter, that she can rise above the prejudices of our hypocritical society. I am a firm believer to follow your heart and not stick to status quo. Bravo Rabia for inspiring all of us!

Mariam Piracha spoke to me personally because I am a writer by profession.  I have been writing since a young age, and I feel I can express myself creatively most via my written work. Her awesome project, the Spoken Stage, gave every young student a platform to be honest on paper and rise above. She also spoke eloquently and I was very impressed. I would love to learn more about her work.

We had a performance by Suhai Abro, a classical dancer who explained through her wonderful technique how she expresses her feelings through dance and how it enables her to rise above. Her story about her relationship with her mentor and teacher reminded us of the times when we burned bridges with people who were once our own teachers and learned to move on from there. I am not a huge fan of classical dance. She managed to keep my attention, although I felt her story was more interesting than her routine.

Digital marketing specialist, composer and singer Daniyal Noorani explained us to how he came up with his animated short ‘Quaid ki Batein’. One of the clips he showed educated us about cleaning trash from outside our homes and that we can eventually clean the whole country this way. His talk was well-rehearsed and well-timed. He was one of the few who stuck to the 18 minute rule. I wish the Quaid was at TEDx and I will not be surprised of his feelings. I bet he would have stood up and saluted Daniyal!

There was a break for around half an hour that turned a little too long which was expected at an event of such nature. Snacks and beverages were served and it allowed the audience to network with the speakers and each other. There were shawermas, mini-burgers and a delicious cake that really hit the spot J.

Now we come to Sania Saeed — who needs no introduction. Honestly, she was a bit boring in the beginning but with the passage of time, she gained my attention when she spoke of the profound impact of her play Aahat to women she interacted with back in the 90s. She also mentioned a few lines on her role of Mehrunissa in Anwar Maqsood’s ‘Sitara aur Mehrunissa’ and her fashion sense that eventually became a statement of its time. To be fair, she got a little interesting in the second half of her talk, but there was too much light corporate bashing considering the event had several corporate sponsors.

Ahsan Jameel, CEO of Aman Foundation, came on stage to talk about depression and mental health. He also spoke highly of his company and his subordinates. His talk, seasoned with couplets and quotes, reminded us to follow our passions as well. He meant to say a lot more but due to the 18 minute rule (that some speakers failed to observe), he had to cut his speech short. I have to say business grads, you gotta listen to this guy. He is a role model for any budding CEO.  I just wished he had more time to speak.

Jameel Yusuf was one man who broke the record of longest TED talk I feel. He went way overtime which actually caused the event to close around two hours over time. Would you say it was well worth it? He was one of the key speakers and several people had come to see him, and he had quite a lot to say. He was awarded the Sitara-e-Jurrat in 1992 and had worked tirelessly for the CPLC between 1989 and 2003. He was brilliant the entire time and I knew that everyone in the audience did not want him to stop. He was one of the marquee speakers and man, if this event had just his speech, it would have been worth attending.

The man is a living legend and a hero. His speech is worth a listen and I wish he had more time to complete his story. Umair Jaliawala made everyone laugh when he sat down on stage and exclaimed that Mr. Yousuf had committed a serious crime! Tell that to the man who spent his life fighting it!

The show must go on, and so it did. Tina Sani was one I personally wanted to listen to. Her song ‘Koi Baat Karo’ is my all time favorite. Anyways, starting off singing, she told her story of how music became her voice. Her upbringing in Afghanistan and how she learned to appreciate people of different cultures, something I experienced myself as an international student in the US. I love music, so to hear Tina talk about what music meant to her and has defined her personality was amazing. Her talk was a major highlight and she should return on the next TED. Marvelous singer and lady!

Finally, we got treated to my friend Yousuf Kerai and his student Shehroze’s musical performance on table and sitar respectively. As part of the Tarz group, these guys have mastered eastern classical music and wanted to showcase the true music of the subcontinent and that he did in style. Their jugalbandi was just out of this world. I am a huge music fan and this was the best way to end the night. It was seeing two maestros in perfect harmony as their instruments spoke to each other. Some audience members had left and missed out on a perfect ending to the evening. Yusuf and Shehroze, you guys rocked the house!

TEDx was in one word: inspirational. I felt refreshed, energized and enlightened. Between breaks and before the show started, sponsor activations were well done. Coke’s photo booth (manned by O’ Shoot Photography) was a great way of taking home a piece of TED with you. There was a nice swag bag, and Umair even asked us to share the ‘tohfa’ that was in each bag with our neighbors in the audience. I got a real inspiring message in the one that was gifted to me by an elegant lady about believing in oneself and not giving up. That’s the message I want to end this write-up with. 


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