Saturday, May 28, 2011

Right, Said TED

TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design. According to its web home:

"TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design."

TEDx, according to the mothership, is:

"designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. At TEDx events, a screening of TEDTalks videos -- or a combination of live presenters and TEDTalks videos -- sparks deep conversation and connections."

Karachi’s first TEDx event happened last year, and the second wrapped up a few hours ago. Here lies the unembalmed corpse of The Reluctant Teddy, and its well preserved diary. Any resemblance to real persons dead, alive or in charge of the events twitter feed are purely coincidental...

The TEDx Karachi Diary

12 pm: Don’t wanna go

12:15pm: Can’t make me

2:00pm: Still don’t wanna go

2:15pm: Still can’t make me

3:00pm: WTF am I doing in the back of this car?

3:15pm: I love it when Pakistanis queue. It’s like that moment as a parent when you realize your child is not mildly retarded, only too lazy to be buggered enough to make the effort, any effort, unless significant social stigma ensues.

3:25pm: So, let me get this straight. You made me carry this luxuriant invite – which by the way would make an excellent coaster/doorstop/non-sterile gauze for injuries incurred in buffet lines in non-queuing demographics – and a ticket print out, AND some form of identification, just so three random teenagers could highlight bar codes and put a tick next to the highlighted bar code at three different stops? Excellent. Now, when are we playing dodge ball in the high school gym?

3:30pm: It’s 3:30. I’m in my seat. On time. Are we having fun yet?

3:45pm: Nope.

4:00pm: Still nope. On the up side, the aunty with the ageless Vuitton on my left agrees that it is people who show up late and not people who show up on time who should be penalized. She must have gone to Kinnaird.

4:05pm: TEDx Karachi stage set consists of…

- two bookshelves with what might or might not be fake books
- two gilt edged mirrors punctuating fake bookshelves, possibly catering to Imran Khan’s peccadilloes
- two maps of what could either be the world or Karachi’s incestuous society’s idea of the world
- two bell-shaped leather-backed chairs generally seen in the lesser known fetish films, separated by a Victorian era skirted table topped with a gramophone, there is a metaphor here but I am too afraid to tap it
- a ship’s wheel
- a clock that doesn’t work
- a metal man on a metal horse, could be Tamerlane, could be the spirit of the organizers' time
- decapitated head of antelope, antlers included
- complete absence of any TEDx speaker, presenter, anchor

4:10pm: Ten seconds away from walking out and filing ‘I went to TEDxKhi and all I got was this lousy ripped-from-body-of-intern T-shirt’ post

4:10pm and some: Ah. It begins.

Fasi Zaka on the surreal TEDx Karachi stage

4:11pm: Dr. Awab Alvi introduces, badly, the notion of TED and TEDx, before introducing Fasi Zaka, the first speaker on the theme of ‘Making The Impossible Possible.’

The TEDious

4: 25pm: Fasi Zaka is funny. But I knew that already. So far he has told us that:

a) Pakistan has an education emergency.
b) An education emergency is a bad thing.
c) This Education Task Force he was a part of wanted to fight this bad thing with a month-long, sustained assault via the media because they felt that not understanding the effect of living with an education emergency was akin to being the person in a burning cinema whose charred corpse is found burned into a seat, still waiting for the moment when the rush to the exits abates and the panicked ‘flight’ response kicks in.
d) They were pleasantly surprised by how many Pakistani media anchors volunteered their time, space and belief to this noble cause.
e) Hamid Mir and Talat Hussain were cases in point. Hamid put aside his anger about the time Fasi called him a tool over email long enough to say "Anyone who is a friend to education is a friend of mine." And Talat’s munificence extended to volunteering to spend even more airtime against the backdrop of a school.
f) At the end of the day, the 170,000 signatures they gathered on their "Make Education a Priority" themed petition made no difference whatsoever.

4:30pm: Fasi’s central premise then, is that you can’t always make the impossible happen but you can always count on at least two people in an English speaking audience to laugh at a Yoda joke.

4:32pm: Awab Alvi introduces a TEDTalk by an Iraqi woman called Zainab Sabli. This was presumably meant to be an inspirational ‘I lived with bombs then I learned to channel that kinetic energy into positivity’ talk. I say presumably because a technical glitch meant the DVD got stuck and Dr. Awab had to scurry back on and introduce the next speaker instead. Don’t know much about him other than that he is an aerospace design engineer. Excited because I have always wanted to be the best space cadet I can be.

The drone from a small college in the USA

4:35pm: Raja Sabri Khan makes drones. Raja Sabri Khan saved money for his first drone by supplementing his income with fashion photography. Raja Sabri Khan went to MIT. I know this because in his introduction he made an MIT joke along the lines of "I went to MIT, a little college in the USA." This told me a few things:

a) RSK feels he is in a space where he can make an in-joke about MIT
b) If humility and RSK met in a dark alley, RSK would win

4:40pm: Er, did whoever curated this talk bother telling this man the theme of the evening? Because so far I have heard a lot about what a prodigiously gifted scraper of model aeroplanes / fashion models he was, and absolutely nothing about how exactly he has contributed to making the impossible happen.

4:41pm: He did not just say “Saying no to drone strikes is something I support. Saying no to drone technology is something I do not support.” He DID NOT!

4:42pm: He did. And the smattering of applause has only encouraged him. And now we who have sat and watched authentic inspirational TED talks about how we can make the world a better place by focusing on solutions instead of problems must sit here and ask ourselves why it is that we are afraid of breathing air devoid of politics.

4:44pm: Oh yes, an anti-drone drone. Truly an idea worth spreading.

4:45pm: And behold, it is the obligatory PNS Mehran reference, brought to you by the last person you would have expected to hear it from, a featured speaker at a TED-connected event. Yes please, lets muddy the waters further some more, and work together as a people devoted entirely to the idea that we will never step out of the circumstances of our physical lives long enough to live our intellectual ones. In other words, if the Pakistani establishment had bothered realizing how much drone technology could do for internal security the attack would never have happened. So it is, in effect, a side effect of not worshipping aerospace design engineering as opposed to a side effect of being half-formed dimwits.

4:46pm: TEDxKhi co-organizer Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy just walked up to the most-visible-from-podium point in the auditorium and made the 'T' gesture. You know, when you hold one hand perpendicular to the other to indicate ‘Time’... How much do I have to pay her to make the hand-slashing-across-the-neck-indicating-‘Death’ gesture?

TEDx Karachi audience: an elite gathering 

4:47pm: Dr Awab Alvi is now telling us how badly he and the erstwhile fashion photographer turned aerospace design engineer (I could have you told about all the jokes RSK made about how drone technology in Pakistan was initially inadvertently funded by the fashion industry, but then I’d have to kill me) wanted to fly a drone across the South End Club jogging track and transmit a live feed into the auditorium but the administration would not let him.

4: 48pm: I’m a cynic. A heartless cynic. I have this great opportunity to feel like a part of the herd, to celebrate the way we privileged few float above the cluelessness of the general population / random Defence Club administration, and instead I sit here and lament the way everything is an in-joke, an aside to the familiar. I should hang myself from the nearest energy drink billboard with a rope of regurgitated gum. Die MSS Die!

4:50pm: Wait, Imran Khan is coming on. Maybe he will save me?

4:55pm: Imran Khan will not save me. I only said that to make you think I was open to the idea that he could. Actually, I have never thought he could. My first clue to this was the ‘I, me, myself’ speech he made in 1992. My last clue to this was the moment, a few minutes into his TEDx talk today, when he said “There was never a possibility that I would not become a test cricketer, it was just a question of when.

Imran Khan indicates his electoral prospects

To those of you who happened to be in the audience and might have taken this to be an insight into the mind of a natural leader, I say, yes, sure, let me take your thumb impression and plant it firmly on this here vote form. To those of you who happened to be in the audience and might have taken this to be an insight into the mind of a natural megalomaniac, I say yes, sure, let me take your thumb and plant it firmly on your nose and encourage you to waggle your fingers rudely in the air. And recite to yourselves the most telling sentence from his unfocused, rambling, practice campaign speech: “I am probably the only bowler in history to retrain my action to suit my ambition.

5:10pm: Teatime in a basement buffet. A man behind a friend and I in the line follows us to a table and, plucking up courage, asks whether we were invited, like most of the people around us, or applied successfully to attend, like the many he says he knows who are watching or will watch at home. “I don’t understand,” he says, “what criteria these organizers had to select who could attend. And why did they not have it at someplace like the FTC where people from all over could come easily instead of this place in phase 8?”

5:14pm: In a bathroom stall, having internal dialogue about the term ‘elitist.’ The original TED conference takes pride in the notion, because it is based on the premise that, in the modern world, there is a direct correlation between the financial success and the technological / artistic / entrepreneurial drive of those who attend. Is this a viable position to have in a society where pedigree / connections / inherited social currency still rule?

5:18pm: What do you mean the cake is finished you dumb waiter? Who ate all the cake?

5:40pm: Asad Rahman is a much better presenter than Awab Alvi. For starters, he doesn’t mumble. And is smart enough to understand spin. Just look at the way he introduces Noori as the second coming of Christ.

6:00pm: Noori earns brownie points for dressing down and acting, generally, like accountants with guitars as opposed to rock stars with brains. Much easier to do, for one.

The accountants with guitars look

6: 03pm: Dear Bulleh Shah, I hope you are well. I am glad you are not here to see massacre at Aik Alif Corral. In other news, Baby Noori (aka Ali Hamza) can sing, and most people did not mind that he referred to you as the "Che Guevara of his time" for "walking around dressed in women’s clothes telling people stories."

6:05pm: What a nice little riff these nice boys do on "fast" things. If I close my eyes I can almost pretend I am at a party and the Three Stooges are performing for chicks in the crowd who still buy the "inner self versus worldly goods" lines. Actually, I don’t think I have to close my eyes.

TED and Shoulders Above

6:30pm: For the first time today I am feeling the chill down my spine that one feels in the presence of the real. Dr Quratulain Bakhteari’s talk, hopefully coming soon to a TED channel near you, suddenly makes the sacrifice of the last two hours worthwhile.

Quratulain Bakhteari: The authenticity of the real

I don’t want to spoil it for you by doing a verbatim account but I will say this: inspired, inspiring and all those other things one has come to expect from an hour or two of communing with the spirit of TED. Is that focus, courage and vision I see before me? What is this ache in my chest cavity when she speaks of the "blunt knife twisting" constantly in the heart of a mother without her children? Who clapped these soft hands together when she refers to the shame of being a Pakistani after East Pakistan has been cast away? Wherefore this unbidden nodding of the head when she says we may be told to be fearless but we are hardly ever reminded that we must live with pain if we are to live honestly? Is it authenticity that is melting my cold heart? Are these tears trickling down my cheeks? And who put an empty water bottle on my seat to sit back down on when I got up for the standing ovation, dammit?

6:50pm: And now on stage in wheelchair, Sarmad Tariq, the first 6’ 3”quadraplegic to represent Pakistan in the New York marathon who makes his living with words and isn’t afraid to make you feel mildly uncomfortable about it. Again, this is a talk I think it would be infinitely preferable to watch rather than read about and I look forward to seeing it online soon.

Sarmad Tariq: sitting tall

7:10pm: Like Dr Bakhteari before him, his mixture of wisdom, charm, determination and clarity earn him a standing ovation, the irony of which is not lost on him, considering – as he points out once the hooting has died down – standing and clapping are both things he is no longer able to do. Both these speakers are on par with TED Talks I have seen on international stages. It occurs to me that it isn’t just that their struggle to make the impossible happen hasn’t been, unlike the gormless offerings of the first half, contrived, but rather genuine. It could also be that they benefited from focused, intelligent advice from a TEDx organizer who doesn’t see this local event as just an amateurish exercise in self promotion. I think this because there was in these two presentations the minimalist, subtle attention to narrative tension and dramatic flow that was wholly lacking in the first four. There was also a marked absence of the ‘Well we’re all in this auditorium so we must all be the same so I don’t really have to challenge myself or you’ attitude those four showcased. Kudos to whichever Teddy held their hands and walked them through it beforehand.

Then there is, out of the blue, a viewing of a TEDtalk by Salman Khan about The Khan Academy. I learn two very important things in this. One, technology can help us make the world a global classroom. Two, The Khan Academy is not run by an infamous Indian actor seeking to atone for running over homeless people and shooting endangered species but a former hedge fund manager in the US whose cousins inadvertently led him up a lucrative career path in remedial math. I think this was a great way to break the momentum, can relate completely to the idea of bringing things down to a more sustainable pace, and look forward to secretly doing some of his online tutorials so my brain stops short circuiting when faced with numbers larger than 2.

Better TED Than Dead?

7:20pm: The last speaker of the evening is Mukhtaran Mai. This is how TEDxKhi sold me on the idea of 'Making The Impossible Possible' in the first place, by putting Imran Khan and Mai on the same stage, and then pretending they were there for reasons other than the public personas they inhabit while simultaneously doing absolutely nothing to delve a little deeper into who they are.

Imran Khan’s slip accidentally showed when he talked about how his first foray into politics was a result of his party mates calling his bluff. He had intended to raise his profile and then announce a boycott of his first ever election, he felt comfortable enough to say, because "the match was fixed", but "they were new to politics" and insisted he go ahead. Mukhtaran Mai did not feel as comfortable.

Mukhtaran Mai: uncomfortable showpiece

Possibly because of things like the fact that, when she came out, was placed in a chair and asked her first question (her talk was in the form of a Q&A), her mike didn’t work so she had to be escorted off and brought back and start all over again (technical glitches were, sadly, a sub-plot throughout the evening). Possibly because the first question from 'society' was "What was your childhood like?" Possibly because, when the moderator at some point asked her how she felt about the situation she was in and she expressed her frustration and disappointment and wondered aloud whether she would ever get justice, the moderator changed the subject. And when talk resumed, Mukhtaran Mai had the sense to not bring it up again.

People were, after all, clearly wandering around wanting to feel it was possible to make the impossible possible. How the story of Mukhtaran Mai, as it was presented, makes that point is anybody’s guess.


ArsalanKh said...

You sum it up awesomely. I watched it online right after IK. Agree with the point of phase 8. Dr. Qurut ul Ain and Sarmad was indeed inspiring and showed how they started from nothing to make impossible - possible.

Anonymous said...

You need to learn to take better pictures.

Anonymous said...

can Awab Alvi grow up and let go of's twitter account?

Amna K said...

You had a pretty bad time. TED events in Pakistan are no match to the ones outside Pakistan. But it's a start and I think they'll get better with time. We just need the right people to speak and 'spread ideas (supposedly) worth spreading'.

As for the criteria for selection, I wonder and I wonder. Lol.

Shajhan Baloch said...

MSS This is your about your comments which you made about Dr. Bakhteari, I can only imagine how naive you are, Though Dr.Bakhteari is in inspirational when she talks, you have to ask the people who ever had the displeasure of working with her. Her organization IDSP which is based in Balochistan, has the dubious distinction of hiring people with two contracts, one which is sent to the donor agency and mentions a higher salary and then another contract is present to the employees which mentions a much lower salary. Her organization IDSP is famous for having a "Shia" agenda as well, as well, as she encourage people to convert their sects.
I fail to understand why a women with an agenda would inspire you so much that you would waste your tears.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant as always. Laughed out loud at 'If humility and RSK met in a dark alley, RSK would win.' Ha ha ha

Anonymous said...

I’m one of your fans Pyala. After reading this post I want to say something:
Why on earth have you tried to show your mastery of English language?
I know writing better is necessary but more important is the message you want to convey. I at times confront with this problem of comprehending your posts in one go. I hope this blog is not for the ones who-can–easily-comprehend-the-cool-lingo usually used by Pyala people. As you yourself raised an objection on TED venue, which is quite valid but you should do see this thing also. It’s just an observation by your fan.

shobz said...

I was present at the event and it wasn't so bad. The worst thing about the whole event was the performance by Noori. Why is it that all artists love to talk about Sufism when they probably don't even know what it is? Noori were so bad that they gave me a headache. I don't get why they had to give that speech which wasn't inspiring in any way.

Sabahat Zakariya said...

Oh, the irony of a blogpost written in a style only a handful in Pakistan can relate to/understand commenting upon the in-jokes and elitism of the TEDxKarachi event.

bayl said...

i feel vindicated for attending it last year and feeling much like you felt throughout. thank you pyala, much appreciation for this.

karachi feminist said...

yes, I almost felt your being inspired by Dr Bakhtiaran was a little surprising for a mature and sarcastic blog. I mean, the realities of running an organization and depending on donor funding leaves you far from idealistic...I wish people would present themselves honestly and how these contradictions come to play in ground work, be it ngo or movement, and how they deal with these in novel ways, instead of presenting a story...everyone got a story, you know, and often a very sad one. Also, I was super impressed with the gramophone English. As usual, Tedx, a glam conference..

Anonymous said...

I am sure there was an after party and you are just bitter because you were not invited...

Anonymous said...

The Khan academy is a non profit and Salman Khans efforts can hardly be called lucrative

Anonymous said...

This is the deal:

Cafe Pyala is sustained excellence. And that too on an international scale.

The Bitterbodies can't handle being mediocre. This very mediocrity (as shown up at the TedX conference in places) is often pointed out by the Pyalas, among other more important and pressing things.

Talk about language, talk about after-parties, talk about a revolution, but excellence is excellence, irrespective of form.

And for that, thank you, once again, the faceless, brilliant and bold Cafe Pyala.

MSS said...

Thank you all for reading and commenting. I don't generally comment on my posts. I felt compelled, though - after reading calls on twitter to 'ANALize' cafe pyala, possibly with cattle prods, and rally all those they have ever criticized to 'take them on'- to let our readers know that we shall always provide a sympathetic ear to any issues you might have with our work but encourage you to work out any issues you have with your own sexuality elsewhere.


Fair point. My bad. Remedial math is admittedly still probably only lucrative for tax evading Pakistani tutors. And I really did, for the longest time, wander around thinking it was THE Salman Khan.

Karachi Feminist:

Someone in an earlier comment also pointed out that there is always more to a story. Or not. I will say only that I found her talk inspirational and was profoundly moved by hearing a mother speak openly about having to choose between her children and her integrity. There is such little space in public discourse about the lives of mothers, and I for one was delighted to see it tackled head on.


The difference being, we're kinda a free for all :)

Amna K and shobz: I didn't say it was an unmitigated disaster. I said it featured two talks of the standard one sees on actual TED, which is actually a straight up compliment, and I pointed out what I consider to be flaws worth fixing next time around.

Shajhan Baloch said...

@Karachi Feminist MSS is certainly some one who knows how not to wreck a good story with truth, that's why he got so inspired by Dr. Bakhtyari :)

Naushad Shafkat said...

This is one blog of yours which was tedious and overdone. Lacked the crisp comments we expect. Hope you can add brevity besides the other qualities you have.
I think many would be interested in seeing this Asma Jahangir clip about the military:

Faisal Khan said...

Like I said - its very easy for you to find faults in hindsight (especially when you choose to remain anonymous). I have no issues with my sexuality, obviously, you do...

Come out of the veil, its okay. Small penis syndrome is something you will have to live with.

For once, learn to appreciate what others do. No one made you the gatekeeper of our national conscious or movement of good.

Anonymous said...

Well played, @Faisal Khan, well played. As generations of prepubescent boys have learned, when you don't have a rational counterargument to make, go straight for the genitals. Reading your post took me right back to the school yard. I hope for your sake that you're still in school, because my sympathies to your family, coworkers, and pets if you're not.

P.S. You might have noticed that I'm anonymous too. I look forward to your pithy comments about my anonymity.

Hurlykhan said...

I've become a huge fan of this blog, eagerly waiting for a new post. It's really fortunate to read something unbiased without any propaganda shot for the day! The events covered here are something most of us have never heard of- the author seems to have detailed info on all the people mentioned in the posts; Guys(with comments) plz don't spoil this space with ugly verbal exchanges-let's not mess up the great work done here!

Anonymous said...

This review looks like the work of a troll, not cafe pyala. But after the self indulgence of the express trib bitch fest, only logical place for cp to go.

Laughing said...

I'm impressed, CP, by both your straight talk and the humor. And I think Imran Khan was being sold from the pulpit. Not good, TEDxKarachi.

Anonymous said...

Actually the post summarizes the event really well. Something I felt all along while attending it but just couldn't put into words BUT the comments are even more interesting - as always.

Way to go, MSS.

@ Faisal Khan - Bad retort! Time to grow geezer.

Minerva said...

Fucking awesome post, man.

Anonymous said...

No thoughts on Saleem Shahzad?
You have exposed yourself as the coward that you are.

Umair said...

^^ says Mr. Anonymous... HAHAHAHA!

Anonymous said...

Check this out! Newspapers using a photo from a blog and did not even dare to acknowledge the photo source.Simply put as Photo: File
Photo grabbed and cropped.I think the blogger is not aware the photo on her blog is on national papers.

What a shame to our newsreporters.Please blog about this.

Hyder said...

I do think you were trying to be humorous.if you were you definitely succeded but at the cost of ridiculing a platform which all over the world is on the fore front of spreading innovative ideas.
Although the first installment of Ted Pakistan is nothing to be proud of it needs time and effort to come at par with the its international edition.
I hope pakistan will give it that if nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

Pyalas... where have you disappeared? I know there is more than one of you and I hope that one of you wasnt called Shahzad :-(

Come back to posting new stuff guys.... I'm getting withdrawal symptoms... and having to rely on The Nation for opinions :-)

Scare said...

Where the f........Rumi u have gone.We are worried about you,the way journlist are being killed in India & PakiSTAN.

Best seo training said...

Thank You

The given Information on your blog is very useful.

Visit :-Best Seo training said...

great blog found today
classified, blogs, backlinks, online games, forum, music website
very very nice
blog have written.
nice blog