Why is it never enough for a man to merely exist? This is the very question The Think Tank, Manipal put forward to us all on Sunday, the 18th of February, with their independently organised TEDx event. Well, to quote Oliver Sacks, “To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see over-all patterns in our lives.”
Transcendence was the theme of this year’s TEDx talks here in Manipal. Simply put, transcendence is an existence or experience beyond the ‘normal’. It is something in between a miracle and a metaphor.
The event saw over a hundred Ted talk fanatics pouring into the Manipal Centre for Philosophy and Sciences. It kicked off with the screening of a powerful Ted talk by Sam Berns for the audience, which you can watch here. The speakers then started off with their respective talks. Here’s what each of them had to say:
Speaker 1: Siddharth Chakravarty
‘Locating ourselves in the ocean crisis’
When you think of the oceans, what is the first thing that pops into your head? Is it that long walk you took at Malpe the other day? Or perhaps that sunset at Kaup? Well, Mr Siddharth Chakravarty, the first speaker to step onto the stage, put other thoughts in our minds— the ones of the ocean crisis that we so comfortably choose to ignore.
Before he began his talk, the sea-man turned marine conservationist, asked us to ‘transcend’ ourselves into a world where the food producers were at the center of our food systems. One where food was produced by local people for local markets. One where we safeguarded our rivers, lakes, and oceans.
“Now, I’d like us to come back to today.”
Back in 2015, while in a campaign, Mr Chakravarty had rescued fishermen from an illegal fishing vessel in question that had scuttled. He listened to their stories of unpaid wages, inhuman working conditions, indenture, abandonment, trafficking, abuse and at times, even murder.
“I used to believe that if I shout out louder, I’d wake everyone up. But what pricked my conscience is that all these years I had blamed the fishermen for overfishing without ever interacting with them.”
There are thirteen companies in the world today, that control the trade of 40 percent of the world’s entirety of seafood products. These companies have the capacity of catching more fish than some entire nations.
Bringing that closer to home, India has a fisher-folk population of a little more than forty lakhs, to whom fishing is a cultural identity and an occupation carried down through ancestry. But they have been relegated to bear the burden and blame.
Mr Chakravarty stressed that, when it comes to the crisis of the oceans, we must work towards the solution before it’s too late; before the arrival of a time when monitoring the contact between the oceans and humanity becomes paranormal.
Speaker 2: Anand Sudarshan
‘Futurescape: Designing the future for ourselves’
Anand Sudarshan, the former CEO of India’s largest higher education related services firm, ‘MaGE’, had a different approach to the theme— one of self-transcendence.
‘Futurescape’, a word Mr.Sudarshan had coined up, is the key to this self-transcendence. It simply is the designing of one’s own future.
He gave us the five following valuable tips for designing one’s future :
- Continue to be intensely curious.
- Try new things out.
“We become the prisoners of our own habits. And that prevents us from trying new things.”
- Keep away from personal biases and perspectives on your problems.
- Recognition takes time.
“We are in a hurry, all of us; we are young; we want things to happen now. But remember, it takes time. Everything takes time.”
- Be more open.
He added, “Designing your future is not something you do in the seventh semester of MIT. It is something you do on a continuous basis.”
Mr Sudarshan concluded his talk with one of his favourite quotes, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it”, which he then paraphrased to, “The best way to predict your future is to design it”.
Speaker 3: Vinayak Jain
“Don’t be mean, Doc!”
Mr Jain, a final year student at KMC, Manipal, opened his talk by giving us all a tip to make some easy money. “Go ahead and sue your doctors”, he advised. Yes, you read that right.
Today, if a doctor calls you ‘obese’, you can sue him for emotional damage. He would have to refer to you as “being on the higher side of the average weight”. Asking a patient to stop smoking could be an infringement upon his liberty.
In the 21st century, we have the technology at our disposal. But Mr Jain observed that there is something more that is required of a doctor: empathy. Mr Jain pulled up a few statistics according to which, in medical schools across the world, the students are most empathetic in their first year. How ironic is that?
The arsenal of modern day medicine does not only consist of anatomy and biochemistry, but must also consist of philosophy and sociology.
Here is where ‘narrative medicine’ comes into play. The Kasturba Medical College has introduced sessions where the students narrate a diagnosis but from the point of view of the patient. In such sessions, they are made to read excerpts from classical literature of Virginia Woolf and Leo Tolstoy. Workshops on ‘the theatre of the oppressed’ have also been conducted. These activities not only instill empathy in aspiring doctors but also serve as a breath of fresh air in a student’s monotonous lifestyle.
Mr Jain argued, “We want to provide treatment which is customised for that particular individual. The pursuit of transcendence in medicine is really not negotiable”.
Speaker 4: Saisri Akondi
Giving substance to the Hindi word Jugaad, Saisri Akondi was the fourth speaker. She talked about how we must shift our focus more toward issues of the day which people often turn a blind eye to— quality based on the reach of technology; more resources need to be pooled to undertake “socially-inspired” projects. To be completely honest, the audience was lost for the most part of the talk. Although the speaker tried very hard to make her discourse relatable to a broader spectrum, it was a little too technical to be received in the right sense. People belonging to a non-technical background were barely managing to make head or tail of the topic. The choice of topic was rather interesting, but the way of presenting it could have been different to help the audience appreciate it better.
As far as the oration was concerned, the speech was rather flawless, save for a couple of occasional stammers.
Speaker 5: Sammilan Shetty
An avid lover of nature, Sammilan Shetty gave an informative talk on the importance of butterflies in nature. He beautifully portrayed how creatures as small as caterpillars and butterflies play such an immense role in the big picture. The highlight of his speech was his statement, “We can neglect butterflies to our own peril”. Everyone hears about butterflies and other wildlife being in danger due to human activity. His speech changed the whole game by bringing perspective and depth into the scenario. His passion for the conservation of these little insects stirred something deep within everyone in the auditorium. He shared the origins of his love for butterflies, making sure he did not leave even the tiniest of detail. His talk concluded with an extremely well shot and aesthetically pleasing video of butterflies in his very own butterfly park. His oration was very simple and easy to understand; the pauses here and there added emphasis to his points.
Speaker 6: KS Jaivittal
“We must transcend every level to reach greater heights”
By far one of the best speakers, KS Jaivittal gave one of the most compelling speeches of the event. He started off by stating his simple principles of life, and then proceeded to narrate his humbling journey from being a clerk to an estate officer at MAHE. The foundation of his speech was his life and the pillars were his daughter and her success.
“Hurdles are the learning points of my journey”
He explained how adversities are a part of everyone’s day-to-day lives; small acts of kindness here and there are all we have that keep us going. The way he rendered it struck a chord amongst every single person listening. He told the audience the story of his mentally challenged daughter, and how the hurdles in her life stood testament to the fact that success is probably the most difficult thing to achieve. She was the motivation behind all the philanthropic initiatives KS Jaivittal took; the pride of which are Asare, a school for mentally challenged children. His discourse kept everyone engaged till the end. It was heart-warming to know that good still existed in the world. The conclusion of his talk was met with a well-deserved standing ovation. He was among the majority’s favourite speakers.
Speaker 7: Hayat Amiree
“You will be someone nicer, someone kinder and someone just better”
Hayat Amiree opened his talk with his mantra in life to be strong, confident, and energetic which he recites every night before going to sleep. “You’re human, only until the war breaks out”, these were his exact words as he went ahead with his talk mentioning the hardships of a refugee. He talked about his life as a refugee, about his childhood in the war zone of Afghanistan, about how he didn’t live a life of a normal kid who goes to school. A refugee’s life is about survival and not growth, but Hayat was in thirst for knowledge. He recalled how he used to sneak into the refugee night school, with the help of the ‘bad guy’ because his father wasn’t supportive of his education. He spoke about him facing problems in every step he took towards growth in his life. It was his will to survive and flourish has helped him achieving success in life. His talk very powerfully pointed out the situation of a refugee, which is not known by most of us. He emphasized on how he never lost his hope and determination throughout. He spoke about everything with a smile until the end and kept the mood light. In the end, he just said, “Life is music. Do it with passion and get better”.
Speaker 8: Sandhya Chandrasekharayya
Sandhya Chandrasekharayya talked about entrepreneurship with her successful experience in life. The audience was captivated with the trekking stories of this entrepreneur turned trekker. Her story started with trekking as a hobby. She got interested in entrepreneurship through it and joined Indiahikes. Her belief is one of sustainable living, just as she believes in sustainable trekking. Mentioning her own journey of entrepreneurship, she talked about the keys through which one can achieve success in this realm. This gave a clear idea to the audience about the shift between passion and livelihood. In the end, she broke the prevalent myth that entrepreneurs use money as a tool to attract customers. Her talk helped the audience understand the world of entrepreneurship better.
Speaker 9: Reuben John
“God created man in his own image can we create a machine that thinks and live and feel like we do.”.
He added to this by talking about artificial intelligence. His talk focused on how the human brain made computer and the progress it has made in technology. He explained what machine learning is about. It was a whole new concept to most of us present there. He talked about how he started exploring artificial intelligence with a bunch of his friends. Most of our notions about AI have been acquired from the science fictions of Hollywood; through his talk, he enhanced our knowledge of artificial intelligence far beyond what we knew.
~Rashmitha Muniandi, Tushar Machavolu and Disha Acharya for MTTN
– Photographs by Jyotinder Singh, Felix Isaac, and Dhruv Pandey