Event Coverage: Tedx Masala

On 12th January 2013, IIT Bombay’s PCSA played host to TEDx Masala – a conference independently organised by UnLtd India in partnership with E-Cell under the patronage of TED. The theme of the conference was “What if… ?”, with every speaker attempting to present to the audience thoughtful, new questions with the intent of achieving solutions to difficult problems.

It was an exceptionally well put-together event, certainly a vast improvement over the last Tedx talk (covered here) that had been conducted by Ecell in the past. The organization of the event was extremely professional in terms of presentation, adherance to schedule and house-rules and distribution of starter-kits – that set it apart from insti events. Instead of packing the audience with IITians, the organisers chose to ensure a diverse guest-list comprising of young professionals, students from various streams, artists and expats that made the networking session post the event a true blend of fresh ideas and perspectives.

InsIghT’s correspondents try to give you a glimpse of the actual talks below.

Pre-break : Correspondent: Anshul Avasthi

Nipun Mehta, Founder, ServiceSpace

I was extremely excited to attend the lectures, if somewhat perplexed at being given a ‘Grow your own Basil kit’ as a welcoming gift. As is the norm with all TED conferences, an array of speakers/performers engaged the audience for an uninterrupted 15-20 minutes each.

First up was Nipun Mehta, founder of an incubator of projects called ServiceSpace who spoke about what he has learnt from the kindness of strangers while on a road trip through India. He argued that the “joy of giving” has more to do with the act of giving than the gift itself, citing the example of a polio-stricken young man who goes door-to-door gifting Tulsi plants, with the intent of bringing peace to homes undergoing domestic disturbances. (It was around this point that the significance of the Basil kit struck home.) Currently, Nipun is working on an interesting project titled ‘Karma Kitchen’- a restaurant where you pay as much as you want to, secure in the knowledge that your meal has already been paid for by the previous customer. It’s a part of his vision to increase trust within the community by inculcating a culture of gifting. Personally, I have my doubts about how well such a system would work in India – but that’s probably just the IIT-Bian in me talking.

Gaurav Gupta, Regional Director - Asia, Dalberg

He was followed by Gaurav Gupta, the leader of Dalberg Development Advisors in Asia, an international management consulting firm focused on social challenges. Most of us are probably aware that a large chunk of the world’s population survives without easy access to water, electricity and LPG. Things that we think of as services – such as running water and a gas connection – can only be bought and sold as products in regions that are off-the-grid, which makes the poverty-stricken end-users end up paying more than the global average for these scarce resources – with an annual spending of tens of billions of dollars. Even though Africa is giving development the fullest attention it can, it’s projected that the number of people living without an electrical connection will increase in the next 20 years – simply because they are unable to keep up with the population’s growth rate. The solution? Getting private corporations to sniff the money to be made – of course! The past few years have seen extensive amounts of research go into improving battery lives, and make more efficient LEDs (whilst simultaneously pushing down costs) primarily for catering to the smartphone/tablet market. Fortunately, the same technology can be used to power more efficient solar lanterns which could provide nearly 5 times the output at one-fifth the cost. While the ideas look good on paper, it’s possible that the ground reality differs; companies that spend millions on market research are probably reluctant to enter the African market primarily due to the lack of existing infrastructure and turbulent political conditions rather than lack of awareness about the existence of an opportunity to make billions.

At this point, a group of girls from Dharavi (an area in Mumbai that holds the dubious distinction of housing Asia’s largest slum) took the stage to enact a play they’d written by themselves. They used the opportunity to showcase to the world the problems they faced on a daily basis including verbal and physical violence at home, eve-teasing on the streets, discouragement towards education and the pressure to get married. The play ended on a high note – with the cast members narrating the changes they’d like to see in society to the backdrop of ‘Chhoti si Aasha’. Considering that a significant part of the audience weren’t  Hindi speakers, it was probably a bad idea on the organisers’ part to feature a Hindi act, but then again, it did close to thunderous applause.
The pre-break session ended with this hilarious talk, which may just be the most ludicrous conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard.


Correspondent: Sahil Vaidya

Harish Iyer, Activist

The second half of the event featured three talks. The speakers addressed issues that one rarely thought about and were indeed thought provoking, especially Harish Iyer’s talk (of Satyamev Jayate fame) on the Indian culture of NOT talking about sex.  He drew from his own harrowing experience of an abusive childhood and related how his sufferings could have been alleviated had Indian families been more open with the idea of discussing sex rather than brushing them under the carpet. In spite of the obviously grave topic, Harish ensured that he kept the tone upbeat and focussed on his activism efforts and actionable next steps.

The second talk was by Rahul Hasija, an alumnus of the Swaraj University which is a unique experiment in the field of education — students design their own curricula and the university focuses on equipping students with basic skills within the context of ecological sustainability and social justice without the end-goal of a degree. A true storyteller, he painted a vivid picture of the degree-driven Indian education system and had the crowd in splits. While he succeeded in driving home the core message of the revolution that is required in our education, the solutions he proposed left something to be desired. The event had its lows too- Ann Marie Twigge’s talk on art couldn’t connect well enough and quite evidently, had failed to impress.

Next came a video presentation of David Damberger’s talk, about his talk on NGO failures, addressed the issue of admitting about a failure and the importance of acceptance. If each talk could be rated according to the amount of learning and the quality of lessons they provided, this could easily feature at the top of the list.

The event came to an end with NSPA ( National Streets for Performing Arts) ’s final act. A group of talented musicians, they enthralled the audiences with a totally new concept wherein they merged Kabir’s dohe with the Reggae.

Amazing crowd, brilliant talks and proper execution- the event had definitely lived up to the hype.