Showing posts with label Zainab Sabli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zainab Sabli. Show all posts

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.