They say “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”. For me, looking at the future—imagining the many threads and influences coming from still-unknown people around the world—is what takes my breath away. Think of our world now, where our laptops are built in Taiwan, programmed by an eastern European teenager, and explained to us by a young woman in India. And think of the world to come—where some of the most important ideas for the next century could come from a girl living in a remote village, or a boy still in kindergarten.
At TEDIndia this November, we want to explore this world to come. India—the largest democracy in the world with a population that includes three quarters of a billion people under the age of 35, speaking either one of 16 official languages or one of its hundreds of dialects, worshipping a million gods—provides the perfect setting for an exploration of the future. And TED, the legendary conference of great minds, is the perfect vehicle for bringing us together.
Bringing TED to India is a personal journey for me. When I first left home to go to IIT in Mumbai, I used to write 20-page letters to my father, describing my routine in excruciating detail: drawings of my room, the hostel, the path to my class. In the absence of a camera or the Internet, I had the urge to share each and every bit of my experience. I still do, but the number of pages of writing has diminished; the urge to share everything I enjoy with those I love continues. So when I attended TED for the first time in the US, in 1994, my first instinct was to somehow channel that experience to everyone I loved in India. And it took 15 years to have the courage to voice the fact that I wanted to do it.
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It was the fear of rejection, the fear of failure that kept me back. TED speakers are so brilliant, so varied, so amazing—did I really have the capability to curate an event of that stature? How would I ever find the talented speakers? Who would I offend if I don’t invite them?
And what about TED attendees? After I put in all the work, would anyone really show up? It’s amazing how we are our own worst enemies and how we each feel that we somehow need to do it all by ourselves. When Tendulkar hits a century, Federer acquires a title or a kid wins a spelling bee, that individual might be in the limelight at that moment, but we need to remember that there was a whole team of family, friends, coaches and team members who worked behind the scenes. And I had to trust that if I took this on, my friends and colleagues from my past and many new people I had yet to meet would come along with me on this journey and make this a success.
So far, it has been an amazing journey. We are curating 400 audience members, 40 speakers, and 100 TEDIndia Fellows from all walks of life. We have amassed an amazing array of artists, authors, architects, mythologists, film-makers, politicians, philosophers, scientists, rural entrepreneurs, social and spiritual leaders, and slumdogs as well as millionaires, to share their stories, perspectives, plans and predictions.
At TEDIndia, we celebrate the indomitable spirit of our presenters for the heights they have scaled as well as the distances they have travelled. A boy who studied under the street lamps who now sits on some of the most prestigious boards, a top-ranking executive who dedicated herself to teaching kids in slums, a woman who raids brothels and rescues the inhabitants to give them back their dignity, a mythologist who is reshaping business communications with stories from the past...
In addition to all the mind massage, our audience will enjoy a great line-up of musicians—and dance to the latest tunes from Bollywood. Clothing vendors wait to fit the attendees with exquisite Indian garments, while artisans will show off an array of handmade products. India’s vibrant colours, spicy cuisine and centuries-old cultures will create breathtaking moments for guests from India and from around the world.
Asatoma sadgamaya Tamasoma jyotirgamaya Mrityorma amritamgamaya from intangible to tangible from inertia to energy (potential to realization) from mortal flesh to immortal soul. That’s the purpose of life. (Translation by Devdutt Pattanaik)
TEDIndia represents the confluence of cultures within me—and the recognition by the TED community of the importance of India and the Asian continent. Seven of the 10 most populous countries in the world are part of Asia; and India, with all its obstacles and opportunities, is a microcosm of that Asian future.
And how much do I love TED? When I left Intel, instead of asking for acceleration of my stock options, I asked if I could keep my TED seat. Any other conference would have written me off as soon as I lost the company title, but TED was different. I was welcomed the next year just as me, and that continues to be true even today. Bringing TED to India is my way of saying thanks for the TED community for loving me for exactly who I am—and to India, for making me what I am today.
When our team decided that the theme for TEDIndia would be “The Future Beckons”, I loved the theme and thought that the title sounded familiar but could not place it. And then I remembered. Many years ago, my father used to run a newsletter called India Beckons for expatriates. He used to say that they were not “brain drain” but “brain gain”. And now, it’s no longer just India beckoning the expatriates, but India’s future beckoning the rest of the world. This is the tribute that I always dreamt of paying to my late father, who fought for India’s freedom and hoped for this kind of intellectual invasion to arrive in India. It is somehow fitting that we are welcoming the expatriates as well as India-lovers to join us to discover a future that beckons us in the land where the future lives.
TED is a small non-profit devoted to ideas worth spreading. 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.
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