(L-R) Roshan Abbas, Sonal Kapoor, Usha Albuquerque, Sonal Mansigh and Naveen Varshneya at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

TEDxJMI: The Choices We Make

Jamia Millia Islamia in collaboration with TEDx organized an event called TEDxJMI on Friday, October 21, 2011 in the Dr. M A Ansari Auditorium.

(L-R) Roshan Abbas, Sonal Kapoor, Usha Albuquerque, Sonal Mansigh and Naveen Varshneya at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)


About TED

TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to disseminate “ideas worth spreading.”

TED was founded in 1984 as a one-off event and the conference was held annually from 1990 in Monterey, California. TED’s early emphasis was largely technology and design, consistent with a Silicon Valley center of gravity.

TED grants licenses to third parties to hold free TEDx events in cities around the world. According to TED these franchised events were “created in the spirit of TED’s mission: “ideas worth spreading.” The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. TEDx events are fully planned and coordinated independently, on a community-by-community basis.

As of 2010, some 750 TEDx events are scheduled to happen in over 60 countries. Jamia Millia Islamia saw its first TEDx event which was held on 21st October in the Ansari Auditorium, which was sponsored by Reliance Communications and “Youth ki Awaaz”: A Mouthpiece for the Youth, ZIM and IMS Academy.


The theme for TEDxJMI was dubbed “Switcheroo” which had brought together people who have successfully made switches in their careers. The event was conceived with the idea that it is often thought that it is passion that should take precedence over other reasons for choosing a career, and that it is important to follow one’s true vocation.

TEDxJMI was a unique opportunity for the student community of Jamia to draw unparalleled motivation from speakers who gave their insights about the choices they made in their lives and their careers. It was to motivate them to develop into individuals who should pay heed to their true calling and breathe excellence by doing what they love doing.

Banners and posters bearing ‘TEDxJMI’ splashed in red against a black backdrop welcomed the guests who filled the auditorium by 11:00 a.m.
The event was kick-started by its emcee Aashisha Chakraborty and Momin Khan who first briefed the audience on the concept of the TED talks.

TED started in 1984, these talks started in a series and have gone on since 1990, they said.

Inaugural Address

Dr. Mini Thomas (Left) and VC Najeeb Jung (Right) at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

Ayesha Hussain, the event’s curator, invited Dr. Mini S. Thomas, faculty adviser to the event, to give away floral tributes to the vice-chancellor, Mr. Najeeb Jung; the pro-vice chancellor, Prof. Rashid; and the dean of the faculty of engineering and technology, Mr. Khalid Moin.

Mr. Najeeb Jung went onto the stage and in his usual engaging style praised the TED talks, terming them as “a world of wisdom.”

Citing the example of Nelson Mandela, he spoke on how he spent 27 years in prison and came out to lead and ultimately win for the rights of black South Africans in a country where the practice of racism was vastly prevalent. He went onto read out the poem, “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley, the same poem Mandela read out to children and the country’s football team.

VC Najeeb Jung speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

The emphasis, he maintained, must remain on the unconquerable soul. He stressed on the practice to master one’s mind and control emotions, resonating the poem’s essence. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi, “When needs end, greed begins,” he warned the students on the scourges facing unity in the country. The first, communalism, he remarked, gathers if one does not contain an open mind. Encouraging all to socialize regardless of one’s beliefs he stressed on “the ability to rise above caste.”

The second scourge, regionalism, has caused the youth to remain largely ignorant of far-flung places in India, citing north-east as a typical example. He concluded with these messages, and wished the event a success, lauding the organising team for their efforts.

Dr. Thomas, faculty advisor to the event, followed him on stage and acknowledged the effort of the students who made the event happen.
The volunteers comprised of various departments of the university and she made it noteworthy that the event had “united the faculties of Jamia Millia Islamia.”

Few of the TEDxJMI student organizers at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

Calling out the names of the event co-ordinators, Dr. Thomas recognized the contributions of Ayesha Hussain, Aashish Birgi, Prateek Taneja, Pankaj Sharma, Mukul Arora, Aaliya Khan, Abhijit Sharan, Sahil Arora, Prateek Singla, Wasiq Hussain and Arti Kesari.

Without much further ado, she then invited the first speaker of TEDxJMI to deliver her story, her message, to the audience.

Sonal Mansigh

Sonal Mansingh speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

With over 50 years dedicated to the stage, it has been truly a long and contenting journey for the Padma Vibhushan award winner, Dr. Sonal Mansingh. According Ms. Mansingh, she had her debut recital at the age of 17, and determined to carry her passion forward. She ran away from home as her grandfather objected to a profession in dancing.

Today she is a celebrated and distinguished Indian classical dancer, Guru, choreographer, and a well-known social activist, researcher and motivational speaker, truly the icon of Indian dance.

She has specialised in Odissi and Bharatanatyam, and is proficient in several other Indian dance styles, including Kuchipudi and Chhau. Conversant in 9 languages, she chose Hindi to speak on her odyssey, the time when girls were disallowed freedom given today.

Narrating an incident, she said, when her guru asked her to differentiate a trained monkey and herself, she spoke of the episode of having a deep impact on her philosophy. Vowing to make a difference to the society through her art, she carried on and advised the audience to “never compromise their self-respect,” crediting her mantra to have sustained her through life. In the same context, she added that it was up to us to decide the norms and values to construct our life and advised all not to miss out on “the essence of the beauty of life.”

As someone who believes that “dance is designed to ennoble people. It entertains while educating the people. It nourishes people with spirituality and provides social commentary.”

She spoke of today, where dance is used as a misnomer and has lost its original purpose and style. Dance, she pointed out, is crucial for delivering a message, society awareness and harmony. She concluded by saying that each one should “give place and space to our inner passions” and make one ideal as our goal, quoting Kabir at the end.

Usha Albuquerque

Usha Albuquerque speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

Usha Albuquerque, a gold medallist in English Literature and Education from Madras University, a former news anchor, film producer and author of several books on career guidance, began with how privileged she felt to share her experiences and her life on the TEDxJMI platform.

In the earlier years, she shifted from one sector to the other and started with teaching, but was drawn towards film-making as she needed “a larger canvas.” Her first career steps had led to teaching English, history, education and drama to high school students.

Her media career was capped by the production of many documentaries on socially relevant issues, including “Seeds of Life,” which won the highest national film award in the country, and “Silent Killing” which was nominated for the UNICEF Child Rights Award.

Today, she combines her role as founder director of Career Smart with running Insight Productions, her film production company. Continuing on, she discussed at length how students were largely following the streams of engineering, medicine and management as they were “passports to success.”

After counselling hundreds of students, she found it distressing that many parents forced their children towards a predefined future; found that students were largely working for marks, grades and degrees with no learning and goals in mind.

Giving examples of students she counseled over the years, she cited one about Raju (name changed) who qualified for both IIT and AIIMS and was torn between them by his parents who wanted different paths. As was the case with Apoorva who was interested in the social sciences but studied at IIT Delhi in a course she hated. Similar was the case with Sanjiv, for whom she directed his gaming skills to be a computer game designer. Today, his game has been patented by a U.S company. Pinky, another student, she told, was the daughter of a flower-seller. Today, after her graduation with an additional computer course, she has found employment in a retail store.

The essential point Dr. Albuquerque stressed on was that even though millions graduate each year, a growing gap exists between the hired and the required.

She emphasised on the need to make informed choices, to develop our talents and to blend our passions with our professions and recommended a need for more exposure in school curriculums. She finally summed up her message with a quote by Confucius, “Success is a journey, not a destination.”

Nandita Das

Nandita Das speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

As one whose career includes films such as “Fire,” “Earth,” “Bawandar,” “Kannathil Muthamittal,” “Aamar Bhuva” among others, one who has narrated an audiobook series for children, taught at the Rishi Valley school, directed “Firaaq” and has been awarded the Chevalier of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Govt. of France for her work, Ms. Nandita Das surprised many when she spoke of her indecision with regard to her career.

Born to a noted painter, Jatin Das, she told of her privileged childhood; as she was privileged to make her own choices and decisions. Such benefits, she said, one realises much later on in life.

Then Ms. Das talked mainly of how life ultimately turns out all right and repeatedly said that it was normal for us to be indecisive of our career choices, citing herself as a typical example.

Her message identified with most students, as she continued on to say that it was “safe to be confused” and that finally, “we end up doing what we want to do.”

She also supports a campaign for child survival, against AIDS, and violence against women and was appointed as the chairperson of the Children’s Film Society of India in 2009.

“Happiness must be the ultimate goal” she advised the attendees. “Life must be seen as a journey.”

She spoke of her decision to take a year off before her post-graduation in social work to teach at the Rishi Valley School, terming it one of her better judgements. Encouraging all to have the courage, faith and conviction to follow their passions and to go for free-will rather than to submit to a written destiny. She made her point with her motivating words as she aptly summed that “nothing is more beautiful than being happy.”

After the presentation of mementos to Ms. Das and Dr. Albuquerque, the speeches of three distinguished speakers, the session broke for refreshments while a previously recorded video of James Cameron at a TED Talk was shown to the audience.

Sonal Kapoor

Sonal Kapoor (Left) with other TEDxJMI speakers at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI))

The event resumed with its next speaker, Ms. Sonal Kapoor. She is a young social entrepreneur and director of a Delhi based NGO called Protsahan India Foundation, a social impact organisation for street kids and their mothers.
The concept was born in West Delhi in 2010. The foundation aims to build creative platforms of learning and self-expression. In its first month of existence, the children had been taught to write their names in English and Hindi. They were also taught the English alphabet other than basic addition and subtraction. The children were trained in making greeting cards, canvas sketches, creative jewellery, origami, paper maches etc during drawing classes. Once in a while, they are taken for trips to places of historical significance.

Ms. Kapoor is considered as one of the most inspiring young entrepreneur and was recently covered and interviewed by Asian Age, Times of India, Your Story, CNBC and several other media channels. She also acts as a consultant to several other NGOs in Delhi and outside.

Roshan Abbas

Roshan Abbas speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Mohd. Aarif Khan)

Similar was the theme of the next speaker, Roshan Abbas, with whom the events theme of switching careers and achieving the best can be most easily identified with. As a radio jockey, he created over 3000 hours of radio programming, winning four awards at the Radio and Television Artiste Awards in India.

Having enjoyed a career as a successful TV host for shows like ‘Family Fortunes’, ‘Born Lucky’ and ‘This is Your Life’ he has also been awarded as ‘Best Television Show Host’ at the Annual TV Awards in 2001.

He had started “Encompass” in 1996, which grew from a creative event agency to an experiential marketing agency that is now aligned with the JWT network.
He has worked on engagement plans, brand launches and activation campaigns for companies. He also serves on the promo jury for Cannes Lions 2008.

“Don’t mix up your net worth with your self-worth,” he said.

Inspiring students to understand the value of roots, he explained that just as students can learn a lot from their elders, the older generation can also learn new skills from the younger generation. The emphasis, he maintained, must remain on sharing ideas, and to keep plodding ahead with dedication and determination which is the most important point.

The “Always Kabhi Kabhi” director motivated students to “keep the faith going” and convinced them that it is possible to succeed without giving in to corruption.

Sprinkled with humour, his talk captured the students’ attention as he inspired each to remain a student all through their lives, to keep gaining from people they meet and to make mistakes and keep learning from them. The ideology, he continued, must be on self-goals and keeping the spirit alive, as he advised, “Don’t become a cynic, become a realist.”

Summing his job as simply to connect people with their potential, he remarked that today, he observed that people can de differentiated between those who inspire and those who aspire. Success must not be measured by materialistic success as showcased by the media.

On a concluding note, he summarized his message by saying that it is simply better not to “swim with the sharks, but to dance with the dolphins.”

His talk was followed by lunch, held in the adjacent Nehru Guest House. The session commenced again at 3:00pm.

Sagarika Ghose

Sagarika Ghose (second from right) with students at the Ansari Audi; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Mohd. Aarif Khan)

The next speaker was Ms. Sagarika Ghose, an Indian journalist, author and television anchor. She has been a journalist in India since 1991 and has worked
at The Times of India, Outlook magazine and The Indian Express and currently is the Deputy Editor and a prime-time anchor on the news network CNN-IBN.

Offering her thoughts on the topic, “The changing role of media as a mirror to the influencer in society,” she put forward her point with an example from her career.

Her first assignment, on a snake in the water tank of JNU, in 1991 made a little acknowledged story. However, today the same story would have had a different response altogether due to the coverage and reportage disparity. Describing today’s media as “amoral” and a “double-edged sword,” she observed that media is usually accepted as a passive role player, while assertive media is unaccepted.

Going on to state instances where media played an influencing role, she remarked that authorities are now forced to act due to the media’s role in public awareness.

Similarly Babri Masjid might have not been demolished had viewers been granted real-time news. Or that Rajiv Gandhi would have not got away with the anti-sikh riots, comparing the latter with Narendra Modi’s case in Gujarat riots.

The difference, she asserted, is that today the images are ingrained in the viewer’s mind, in contrast with few decades earlier, where television, internet and media 24×7 was not available.

To deepen her stand, she gave examples of the justice campaigns such as those for Priyadarshini Mattoo, Jessica Lall, Nitish Kataria where the accused have been brought to book by the voracious public. The most recent examples are of the anti-corruption protests by Anna Hazare, which were a hit due to the media. The 2G scam, CWG scam were instances which media took to remove a politician’s untouchability from law and responsibility.

On the contrary, she mentioned examples where media has only been able to highlight the issue but has not played an influencing role. Such instances are that of honour killings, crimes against women, female foeticide, dowry cases, cases of harassment and farmer suicides; evils which still exist in today’s society.

Moving on, she spoke at length on the ever growing intimacy between viewers and politicians due to media activism. People can nowadays see and judge for themselves, the national political scenario. She believes that television has taken away the complexity and contributed to more rhetorical views.

As her parting thoughts, she spoke of a need of regulatory bodies to monitor the role of media, the instruments of social change in today’s age of adversarial journalism.

Naveen Varshneya

Naveen Varshneya (Right) with Nandita Das at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)

Of all the speakers who came to share their experiences on TEDxJMI, the story of Naveen Varshneya is one of the more, if not the most, compelling ones.

His first presentation slide posed a question to the audience: what is common between a bomber, a patriot and an entrepreneur?

The last does not know if he shall reach his destiny, he answered.

After completing his engineering he joined the Siemens corporation only to leave it soon. He then started a company, which he shut down and started another. This time he captured 70% of the market share, but ultimately he grew dissatisfied and eventually sold it off.

A little later he went to Singapore, worked there, and got fired again. Leaving with his family for Switzerland, where he stayed for seven years, he bought a mobile company there. However, as fate had it, he found himself in India again where he got involved with an NGO, “Jaago Grahak Jaago,” but closed it due to the corruption infested atmosphere.

Later then, he worked with Kiran Bedi on the project, “Mission Safer India,” pulling out from it due to a difference in opinions. At this point of time, he learnt the lessons of determination, hard work and consistency from a boy who played football, whose story he narrated.

He hung his boots as a serial entrepreneur when he realized he is too ahead of his time and resources are rather limited to make evolutionary impact in the world. He lived and travelled around the world inventing technologies and solution for social reforms having many firsts to his credit.

By the end of 2010, through a series of events he faced two patients in the ICU, on whom the doctors had given up hope. He realised two crucial rules; the first is not to give negative energy to the patient and secondly, not to give up before the patient. It is through first treatment, he discovered how the science of mental disorder and suddenly 27 years of his search and research on finding a method to heal began to make sense. However, being an entrepreneur method to heal began to make sense. Being an entrepreneur by nature, he knew this cure had to be established as technology rather than an art. It is a lifestyle disorder and cure has to be inducted into lifestyle and it is possible only if people begin to understand the science in easy simple manner through their own experiences.

Taking a cue from divine intervention, and using his vast experience of building scalable businesses, he began to put all pieces together to come out with a method through which everyone can trigger healing mechanism within themselves without much external help. He established the theory and science of mental disorder, its causes and cures and found himself integrating work of Carl Jung, Theory of quantum physics, Deepak Chopra, Chakra system and Ancient Asian wisdom.

Describing disorder as a disease at the energy level and disease as a disorder at the mass level, his research has successfully cured 100 patients in the last 18 months.

Sameer Kaul

Sameer Kaul speaking at the Ansari Audi.; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Mohd. Aarif Khan)

The last speaker of TEDxJMI was Dr. Sameer Kaul, presently a senior consultant in surgical and clinical oncology at the Indraprastha Apollo Hospital.

An oncologist by profession, Dr. Kaul is known for his vast reaching efforts in social service. He used to conduct free medical camps for cancer patients in the Kashmir Valley for the past 18 years, but feeling a need to work for people at a broader political canvas, he joined the People’s Democratic Party.

He started his talk with how people differ from one another with respect to difference in genes. He remarked that the factors with which we may differentiate between people were based on openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism.

As a doctor, he witnessed many patients inability to pay for the high cost of cancer treatment where injections may cost up to one lakh each. He observed that while many organisations worked on the awareness and education of the disease, the crux problem of financial woes still remained. Moved by this thought, he opened the Breast Cancer Patients Research Foundation. To date, it has raised more than one crore rupees through gala dinners and events with entertainment or fashion shows, supported by wealthy donors.

The foundation’s staff of seven, which includes other oncologists, a reconstructive surgeon, a psychiatrist, an accountant, entrepreneurs and a fashion executive, all donate their time and skills, according to Kaul.

Effectively operating out of Kaul’s office at the hospital has kept overheads low and allowed 98% of the money raised to go to help more than 20 patients, which is a “drop in the ocean,” he said.

He spoke on how a person’s personality keeps changing based on inputs and his surroundings. The tryst with stress is crucial, he continued, advising on dealing and overcoming it.

Returning to the topic of “Switcheroo,” he observed that instead of switching careers, he simply added them on.
As a parting note, he said that the future belongs to those who dare to do the right thing, accept change, question and seek answers.

After his presentation, Ayesha Hussain was called onto read the vote of thanks.

Student co-ordinators and volunteers with Roshan Abbas (center) at the Nehru Guest House; Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 (Photo: Crtsy TEDxJMI)


A group photograph of the co-ordinators and volunteers took place, which was then followed by tea at the Nehru Guest House.


TEDxJMI showcased stories of self-belief and courage, spreading its message of passion over profession. It was the first TED event to be held in the university, and each attendee was presented with a plethora of stories to learn from. The event’s success was rooted in its organization, where students worked together with unity and in goodwill, which are ,perhaps, the best “ideas worth spreading.”

About Muhammad Aarif Khan

Aarif Khan (class of 2013) is a staff writer at Jamia Journal, and a graduate student in the Department of Electronic Engineering. He can be reached via email at: maarifkhan[at]jamiajournal.com.

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