On the 24th of February, 2019 TEDxManipal organized its annual headliner event. This year it was based on the theme Cognizance. We had nine speakers who had incredible stories to share. Each story was in line with TEDx’s goal—having ideas worth sharing. We at MTTN had the pleasure of listening to these amazing stories and boy, was it a Sunday well spent!
The first speaker was Chhaya Dabas founder of Baatein—a confluence of poetry, stories, and conversations. Baatein is a platform, a robust community where people come together and share their stories and let the world have a peek into their lives. Chhaya has been writing poetry since age 10. She shared her story in one of the amusing and entertaining ways we’ve ever seen. Through her speech, she told us ‘Why Two Day Plans Work Better than Two Year Plans.’ One of the most amusing childhood stories she shared with us was how every single article in her house would be transformed into a superhero—the humdrum fan would suddenly be transformed into Fanny Fan and the banal telephone became Phony Phone. Chhaya left us with some touching words, words that we will remember forever.
Mrs Gayathri Prabhu
The next speaker was somebody everyone associated with the Humanities Department in Manipal would know and love, Mrs Gayathri Prabhu. Gayathri Ma’am is an Associate Professor in the Department and has won the prestigious RK Narayan award for her work in the literary field. Her speech was actually delivered in one of the most delicate and sumptuous pieces of poetry we’ve ever heard, ‘When a Teacher Walks.’ Through it, she shared her message of courage, of persistence, of enlightenment and most importantly, of freedom.
The third speaker of this line-up was Mr Srikaanth Vishwanathan. Mr Srikaanth is, in fact, the first and only Indian to have swum across the English Channel. For those of you who might not know, the English Channel is a vast, freezing stretch of ocean separating the United Kingdom from France. Normally, even the most skilled and well-trained athletes bow down before the might of the task. To make matters even more intriguing Mr Srikaanth had no prior knowledge of swimming and was already well into his 30s when he set his target. His story of guts and determination was living proof that once we decide we’re limitless, nothing will stop us.
Cherry Jain, a beauty blogger spoke about how she went from being a shy and reserved girl to a woman who could talk confidently to college students about all things fashion. Her aim was to prove that someone as introverted and quiet as she could make it on their own. She urged the audience to map out their skills, ambitions and weaknesses and list things they think they were capable of. She emphasized that college is the best place to learn new things and be exposed to multiple avenues. Cherry talked about her first job, which helped her earn pocket money in a mall for two days. It was through this job that she understood the dignity of labour. Eventually, she learned to shed the layers of insecurity and self-doubt she always felt and own her stage. Her fashion and lifestyle blog is a great template to understand how not to indulge in herd mentality and how to set out on your own path.
Ankita Modi shed light on a classification of diseases called Nosocomial Infections, in layman’s terms, Hospital Acquired Infections. As a child, she always had an inclination towards the healthcare sector and was fascinated by observing various doctors, how diseases were diagnosed and her favourite, therapeutic devices. When she was young her mom never allowed her to go to a hospital in the belief that she would contract a disease just by being in the presence of other patients. Sadly her aunt contracted one of these diseases, much to her disbelief. She then discovered that Nosocomial Infections are infections that a patient doesn’t have but acquires only after exposure in the hospital; usually due to sub-standard sanitation. Ankita explained how there is no proper method of collection and retention of data related to these infections and this leads to a large fraction of the Indian population being unaware of the alarming situation. She gave us an interesting insight based on her research into ways of minimising exposure to bed bugs and other bacteria.
Shubham Jain spoke about how disruption by the advent of technology has revolutionised work culture, especially in the automotive world. He talked about how every time we’ve seen cognizance in the industry, productivity shoots up and employment and benefits come down. His speech was based on how the fourth industrial revolution was like no other and that the world around us is changing at an unnatural pace. In his opinion, Artificial Intelligence, Autonomous Cars, Gene Editing and Additive Manufacturing are architects of the future. Shubham believes that if there’s anything cognizance has taught us, it is that the change it brings about can be mastered. He encouraged the audience to not focus solely one discipline, but rather, work towards becoming well-rounded, capable of inter-disciplinary achievements. According to him, what really sets us apart is our desire to better humankind.
The first of the final trio of speakers for TedXManipal was Megha Bhatia, founder of Our Voix. This is an organisation that helps society hear a voice that is often not heard—the voice of children who are sexually abused. Megha revealed that approximately 90% of child sexual harassment cases go unreported in India. The effects of such abuse are lifelong and the trauma never leaves the child. As the youth of the country need to be more aware of what it is, and how to respond to it. The organization conducts workshops where children are given a platform to share their stories and speak up. When Megha became cognizant about her voice, she realised how others weren’t or were being suppressed and this led to an era of awareness through which she brought change.
Megha Bhatia was followed by 17-year-old child prodigy Sovesh Mohapatra who spoke of The Sentient of Life. His research is mainly focused on optimising solar cells, therapeutic cancer therapy, and developing mobile apps that help in finding drugs available in the market for rare genetic diseases. Sovesh believes that the technology of the future will enable better health and life for humanity. The connecting bridge between all his varied fields of interest is Artificial Intelligence. Sovesh was rejected by eleven publications, he failed to get into the state debate team and often felt isolated by his peer groups because of his interests. However, he never let himself be disheartened by any of these obstacles because he believed he was a champion. He ended by saying that he is successful because of his failures, and it is these failures that have taught him the method to win.
The final speaker of the event was Aaron Friedland, who spoke about ‘A Brief History of Reading’. Reading and understanding language is a skill that the human race has acquired with time, but unfortunately, we are losing it fast. As a student with dyslexia, a teacher once suggested that he read and write at the same time for him to comprehend the text better. As an adult he travelled around the world, interacting with children from different backgrounds. He realised that this strategy could help children all around the world learn better, especially when their first language isn’t English. SimBi is a program he created that allows children to read and hear the text at the same time from prerecorded books and excerpts. Launched in Uganda and some states in India, SimBi is helping the students increase comprehension skills, reading speed and fluency in English almost ten times faster than normal text.
The event ended with the vote of thanks, followed by a thunderous roar of applause from the audience for both the speakers and the organising team. TedX is a forum where perspectives can be broadened, heard from the other side and learnt. This line-up of speakers, with their fields of expertise and experience ranging from conquering the English Channel to saving children from sexual abuse, provided us with insights into the lives of those who are cognizant and are creating ripples of change through their actions.
Written by Rahul Alvares, Shuba Murthy and Siri Rajanahally for MTTN
Photography by Goutham Manoharan, Karthik Mallya, Uruswat Shukla, Ansh Bhagania, Sauveer Sinha, Tushar Machavolu and Chakshu Saraswat for MTTN