The corridor leading to the auditorium was tastefully decorated with alphabet boxes that could be arranged into words – a giant scrabble walk way, if you may.
There was also a golf mat in a corner, for those who wanted a quick putt. A brick kiln, replica of an underground coal mine, a broken board that screamed “here rests in peace many souls…”. No, it wasn’t another “theme puja” as one is wont to expect in Kolkata, it was the Bhawanipur Education Society College (BESC) organising the second edition of its hugely popular TEDx.
Prof Dilip Shah, the Dean of Student Affairs of the college, along with student coordinators Prteshita Kanshiya, Navin Duggar and Umang Somany took the stage to welcome the guest, in what, as one participant called “the calm before the storm”.
For what transpired though the day thereafter, literally blasted the minds of the beholders, blowing them away.
The first speaker was Gladson Peter.
Calling him a speaker will be doing injustice to him – for he is a one-man orchestra – a walking band of rhythm, whose every move and every breath led to sounds that mesmerised as he underscored his points with the multiple musical instruments that he has astered to follow his commands.
Neha Jain who took the podium next talked about the thin line between superstition and faith, challenging the collective consciousness of the audience to a trip into the unknown recesses of its mind where the blacks and the whited merge into a sea of eternal grey.
Ashiya Zahoor communicated in poems – words strung in metre, that hit the solar plexus – as she took the audience on a journey.
A journey to Kashmir.
Not the Kashmir of poets (“Gar firdaus bar- rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.”
“If there is a heaven on Earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.”) But to the stone pelting, terror and strife infested Kashmir, where she pens her anguish even as she teaches the dictum of peace love.
Ashiya, educated in Oxford, has consciously forsaken a life of comfort to be in her homeland and is often referred to as the lone voice of sanity in a paradise that has been laid waste.
Samira Kedia – who is all of six, (and perhaps the youngest TEDx speaker, ever) took the podium next to register a moving protest against the twin menace of Global Warming and Climate Change, which, in our mad haste to play God, we have unleashed on ourselves.
“We are the World / We are the Children” she sang, with the audience lip syncing the words involuntarily, such was the power of her deliberation.
Anurag Singal an alumnus of the IIM (Ahmedabad) and a rank holder in Chartered Accountancy was the next speaker and his story was no less moving.
With the kind of credentials that he has, Anurag could have opted for a cushy job in any of the power capitals of the world, but chose to come back to Calcutta as a part of the Aditya Birla Group.
Why he did what he did; why, even though the choice looks as one that borders on madness is actually a well thought out and justified one, was the gist of Anurag’s speech.
The number of raw chords, Anurag’s words touched in the audience was surprising to say the least, as he swayed the assembled with his power-packed rhetoric.
Pranab Mukherjee – journalist, thinker, dramatis personae personified, was next on que.
Known for his ability to hold the audience by its nape and shake senses into it on an ordinary day, Pranab surpassed himself, thanks partly to the platform provided by TEDx and partly to the Audience which comprised mostly of his students who are ever awed by him.
His presentation, dramatized to a fault, was greeted with an applause that was as deserving as it was expected.
Madiha Ahmed who is quietly waging a relentless war against a society that teaches us to shrug off the inconvenient truths, take things in the stride literally and carry on, recounted her moving tale next.
Her experience, gleaned while fighting injustice raised some very potent questions even as it taught the dictums of non-compromise – of the need to stand one’s ground in on the face of adversaries that are all-powerful, to be empowered from within, to hold on to one’s convictions to give good a chance.
Hers was a story of triumph when all seemed to be lost, of our need to remain steadfast on the path of righteousness, even when confronted with odds that are seemingly impossible – a story of the triumph of the will.
For Paresh Rawal it was a homecoming of sorts as he is an ex-student of the College.
Paresh shared with the audience his story – of how and why he has dedicated his life to his mission – to create a model that will help eliminate local train accidents.
Gauri Sawant – the last speaker talked of issues relating to the lives, times and rights of the transgender community. Challenging the common practise of considering members of the transgender community as “queer”, even looking at them through jaundiced, albeit sympathetic eyes, she delivered a rousing speech.
Such was the sheer power and raw energy in her words that the audience was moved to tears forced to face is duplicities regarding every person it conveniently labels as different.
TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading”. TED was founded in February 1984 as a conference, which has been held annually since 1990. TED’s early emphasis was technology and design, consistent with its Silicon Valley origins, but it has since broadened its focus to include talks on many scientific, cultural, and academic topics.
However, TEDx I not only about talks.
The BESC event for example, witnessed the playing of as many three TED talk videos between the speeches that sought to explain the basic philosophy behind the events.
Lunch, which was served in due course had another surprise in store as there were only fifty plates for the hundred participants – not due to some oversight on the part of t organisers but because it is the norm.
“The idea is to ensure that all the participants share the food which leads to bonding, to greater understanding, to camaraderie” explained an organiser.
The event was a complete package, with many mind-bending activities interspersing the main talks.
The opportunity that members of the audience had to interact freely with the speakers during the breaks was one of
the high points and was greatly appreciated by the attendees, many of whom when back converted.
The “portend of things to come” moment had come right at the onset, which not only had gone unnoticed, but actually turned out to be the conversation piece of the event.
The sound engineers backstage were at a complete loss, trying to match the frequencies of the different instruments that Gladson Peter proposed to play.
The resultant delay did not lead to the awkward silence and audience unrest as is customary – Prof Dilip Shah seized the moment and led the audience through what he termed, again on the go, a “preparatory game for the TED event” that was to follow.
Proving in the process that TEDx, is indeed a lot more than the talks.
Prof Dilip Shah felicitated the speakers on behalf of the institution and its students as they formally broke for dinner. Point is, even when dinner was announced, the crowd seemed to want more and were unwilling to let go of the speakers. Guess, the end justifies the TEDx.