TED is a small non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. It began in 1984 as an annual conference about technology, entertainment and design—but in the years since, its scope has become ever broader. Along with the annual TED conference in Long Beach, California, and the TEDGlobal conference in Oxford, the UK, where the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project, the new TEDx community program, the annual TED Prize—and now, this year’s TEDIndia conference. TED India 2009 will be the first ever conference of TED in Asia. In these chronicles, Lakshmi Pratury, co-host of TEDIndia, will talk about her personal experiences with TED and provide a curtain-raiser for TEDIndia.
We take our work lives very seriously. We fret over meetings, toil over presentations and try to meet revenue targets; and we give those moments of stress and angst the most importance.
On the other hemisphere of our chaotic lives, we experience millions of personal interactions. We hang out with friends, go on a date and kiss our “goodbyes”; and we take those moments of intimacy and happiness completely for granted.
The irony of it all is that if our jobs were to disappear, we would mourn for a day and move on, hardly changed by the event. But if any of those personal moments were to disappear, we would carry that loss to the end of our lives. Technically, every moment ought to be lived to its fullest—lived as if it is our last—but somehow we can never walk the talk while we’re running around, consumed by our fast-paced marathon of a life. But then something happens that brings us to a screeching halt in disbelief, dismay and devastation.
Rajeev Motwani was that something. His death was what happened.
My moments together with Rajeev had the casual air we often develop with those friends with whom we plan to grow older. Rajeev and his wife Asha, and my husband Rajat and I chose to have children in our 40s, and promised to stay young to see them through adulthood. We also made a lot of effort to include our kids into as many aspects of our lives together as possible. Our interactions with one another reflected our plans—walking around in a park watching our kids play, having a business meeting at home or at a university café with our children in tow, catching up with one another in various parts of the world, dropping in on each other to enjoy a casual meal at home, and the list goes on.
When I signed on to co-host TEDIndia, Rajeev and Asha became a part of my informal advisory team, giving me suggestions, making introductions and sharing the excitement of TED’s journey into India. With this new endeavour, our emails and interactions became even more frequent. As I travelled through India talking to press and potential attendees about TEDIndia, Rajeev and his encouraging advice was a constant part of my life.
One night, after a long day on the road in Mumbai working on publicity for TEDIndia, I had to drive to Pune, only arriving at my hotel at 4am. I felt tired, exhausted and at my limits—or so I thought. When I woke up a few hours later, I found a voicemail on my BlackBerry. Rajeev had passed away.
My head spun and my vision blurred. For a moment, the world stood still, and all those casual, fleeting interactions came flashing by and took on a serious, lasting meaning.
I will always remember Rajeev as the quiet force who orchestrated from behind the scenes so that everyone in his life had the best time possible. He often offered to baby-sit while Asha and I went out for a party. He always made sure that the best wine was there when we sat together for even the most informal meal. Through all the little actions that made a big difference, one thing was clear: He loved his family and friends to no end. Asha and I often joked that we were very lucky to find the kind of spouses who not only put up with our crazy ways, but actually appreciated them. He was proud of Asha and his two daughters and was looking forward to a long future ahead with them.
Just before I left for India on this trip, we had lunch at their place and watched our kids play together, and laughed quietly as we eavesdropped on their conversations. I can’t stop thinking of all these seemingly insignificant moments as I write this tribute from Delhi, a city that Rajeev loved dearly. Five months ago, we all attended a wedding and we stayed up every night, giggling like teenagers, till the lobby bar closed down. I cannot quite accept that one of those voices will never again be heard.
I moved through my meetings for TEDIndia as if nothing happened; but something has happened— something irreversible and unforgettable. When I took a few moments to write this article, when I lay down on my bed at night after a packed day, in those moments of solitude, the reality would descend on me and become almost unbearable. I dedicate my journey with TEDIndia to Rajeev, and I make a commitment to carry forward his enthusiasm about this sojourn.
And I hang on to every casual encounter we shared with a little more ardour. The thing that I most celebrate about Rajeev is that he lived life to the fullest, giving all the necessary time to his students, his colleagues, his family and friends—and lived with no regrets till the end.
I could not make it back in time for his funeral. Instead, from thousands of miles away, I paid my tribute over cyberspace instead of in person, for it seems a fitting farewell to someone like Rajeev—a man of passion and practicality. For now, the best gift that I can give him is this garland of words strung by my heart, and a dedication of this column to a friend and an endearing memory.
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