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TED Bangalore : Everywhere on Earth


My mind is spinning and is all aglow from all the inspiring people and ideas encountered this afternoon. I just got home from the TED Bangalore Auditions, that were held in the Mount Carmel College auditorium, a landmark college in the city. Seeking to discover it’s next speakers, TED came to Bangalore, to conduct its pan India audition, to find the country’s new storytellers, sages, artists, prodigies and inventors as part of its global talent search across 14 cities on six continents.

Some of the speakers included ( not in chronological order ) :- Muruganatham, the inventor of the low cost sanitary napkin machine for rural India, shared his journey of how he went from an eager husband, who was appalled by how expensive sanitary napkins were, presented his new bride with a low cost sanitary napkin, in an attempt to infuse intimacy into his arrange marriage. While his love story did not have a happy ending as his wife served him with a divorce, his invention has changed the lives of many women in rural parts of the country and has also acted as a provider of employment to them. Muruganatham’s talked was infused with wit and humour, making him an instant favorite. One important point that he did make about his invention was that he looks at it more as a solution provider and had no interest in converting it into a corporate entity. He ended his talk by telling us that he went from being a high school drop out from Coimbatore to visiting faculty in all the IIM’s across the country. The nugget of wisdom he left us with was simple – ” there are three levels of educated people : the under educated, the less educated and the super educated. If a less educated person like him could do this much, imagine what levels the super educated could reach.”

Mansukhbhai Prajapati, creator of Mitti Cool, is a traditional clay craftsman, originally belonging to the village Nichimandal of Morbi,Rajkot Gujrat. Mansukhbhai was born into a family whose traditional profession is clay work. After working for a few years in a tile manufacturing unit, he decided to give in to his entrepreneurial streak and start his own earthen plate manufacturing factory. A recommendation from a pottery factory, where he had previously worked, got him in touch with a business man from Rajkot, who wanted Mansukhbai to create clay water filters for him based on the design provided to him. Impressed by the quality of the product, the business man immediately placed an order of 500 pieces at a price of Rs. 200 per piece. This gave Mansukhbhai the financial freedom and confidence to further his creations. The fateful earthquake that hit Gujrat, in 2001 effected his life in a profound manner. A lot of his stock of clay water filters was destroyed. Whatever remained, he distributed to the quake affected people of Kutch. In February 2001, a local newspaper, carried a photo feature on the earthquake, and had one image of a one of Mansukhbhai’s broken water filter, carrying the caption ‘the broken fridge of poor’. He found himself asking – why not create a real fridge for the poor, that does not consume electricity and can be consumed by the masses. Thus Mitti Cool was born. The product works on the simple principle of evaporation. Made of clay, the fridge has two chambers. Water drips from the upper chamber along the sides, the heat from inside the chamber evaporates, leaving the fridge cool and power free.

Arvind Talekar represented The Bombay Dabbawallas , a 122 year organisation, that has also been used as a case study by Harvard Business School, to understand the functioning of a very high service performance (6 Sigma equivalent or better) with a low-cost and very simple operating system. The audience was taken through a short tour of how their whole system works. With zero use of technology, and their signature white topis, the dabbawallas work in a precise and meticulous manner while harnessing the brain power they like to call the Super Computer. For a monthly charge of Rs. 350 – 400, the dabbawallas have a 45 Crore annual turn over. Delivering the dabbas by cycle, theirs is a ‘no fuel, no pollution‘ service.

According to Wikipedia, In 2002, Forbes Magazine found its reliability to be that of a six sigma standard. More than 175,000 to 200,000 lunch boxes get moved every day by an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 dabbawalas, all with an extremely small nominal fee and with utmost punctuality. According to a recent survey, they make less than one mistake in every 6 million deliveries, despite most of the delivery staff being illiterate.

Avijit Micheal, Country Director, gave a compelling talk on Digital Democracy. Using the Occupy Wall Street movement and the Arab spring as examples, Avijit spoke about using the internet and digital technology to enable common citizens to take charge of their voices and reclaim their democracy. The common man now has the ability to receive information and hold the government answerable and responsible. Most importantly, the internet has the power to amplify individual voices and carry it across the world. This gives us an incredible opportunity to harness this power and cause the rippling effect of change that the internet, in its current avataar allows us.

The rest of the talks had incredible nuggets of inspiration and sparks of big ideas such as Gaurav Tekriwal promoting Vedic maths to solve the global crisis surrounding mathematics. The 14 year old game developer and special effects artist Shivam Gupta who believes child obesity can be controlled by gaming. Danish Sheikh, A human right lawyer, who talked about what it was like to be gay in a society that is simple not built for you, where one changes the gender of the hero or the heroin and reads between the lines for any signs of  being understood. Puneet Sahani, The colourful hitchhiker who has traveled 100,000kms across 35 countries, which circling across the world two and a half times, along the equator.. Puneet tends to travel alone and without a map, and firmly believes that there is  “Beauty in being lost”.

The audition ended with a beautiful piece by the utterly charming and disarmingly witty Charles Ma, a Bharatnatyam dancer and teacher based in Bangalore. Having learned classical dance for over a decade and through his own fights against racial and gender discrimination, has realized that every dancer  must go on their own journey and take different paths to reach it.

With the presence of a kurta clad Chris Anderson, a charming Kelly Stoetzel and a beautiful Lakshmi Pratury, set against the beautiful stage designed by Shilo Shiv Suleman, (stay tuned for an in depth story on her latest creation Khoya, coming soon to Designwala), the auditions brought to the fore front a wide array of ideas, thinkers and doers, all of whose stories were inspiring and heart warming. One of the questions that was thrown open to the audience was : What can India learn from the world? What can the world learn from India? The most compelling one was the idea of India having learned to make piece with its chaos, and that the world could learn a thing or two from her, about making sense of the madness. Also that India could learn something about organisation and efficiency from the rest of the world.

The videos of this audition will go up on the TED website at the end of June. Everyone from around the world, will have the ability to vote for their favorite talk, that will further help the TED team to select from these incredible speakers from the top 50. The chosen speakers will then have the opportunity to speak at TED 2013 Long Beach, California.

Featured Image pulled from the TED website

2 Responses to “TED Bangalore : Everywhere on Earth”

  1. Jhanavi says:

    I admire these achievers but come on… there must be more than this.

    Is it just me or is the Tedx running out of people to promote? I see the same 8 people talking at every X event in India… why is this? Are there no new ideas that can be showcased?

    Perhaps that Salon hit piece on Ted is food for thought.

  2. Ria says:

    Hi Jhanavi,

    I agree. There is a large unrepresented population of achievers, artists, inventors, innovators and entrepreneurs in our country. And, to be honest, until i watched them speak at the TED audition, I didn’t know about most of the esteemed speakers on that stage. Which, maybe a comment on us Indians and what we curate of our own culture.

    The article on Salon was a well written critical piece, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It did however, further amplify the far reaching influence of TED.

    As a nation, we have much to learn and accomplish about dealing with numbers and affordability. Effective problem solving with integrated methods of thinking, needs to be encouraged and nurtured.

    We have definitely come a long way. The design consciousness of our magnificent country, is only just being born. And there is a long way to go, still.
    While India finds itself and gets comfortable in her own skin, I’m glad there are agencies such as TED, who dig up stories of magic, adventure, craft, mathematics and love, from our very own backyards, and put it on a stage, for all the world to see.


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