TEDx Karachi: Reflections on inspiration

Published: June 1, 2011
SHARES
Email

“I will never have enough money for full physiotherapy, because I would much rather spend it on a Ferrari. I’m not one of those people who sit around waiting for a cure. I like the attention I get in a wheelchair too much.”

“I will never have enough money for full physiotherapy, because I would much rather spend it on a Ferrari. I’m not one of those people who sit around waiting for a cure. I like the attention I get in a wheelchair too much.” The standing ovation that Dr Bakhtiari got was well deserved. “I believed the Supreme Court would provide me justice. Now I have left my case to Allah.” To his credit he managed to keep his political rhetoric to the minimum (a total of 4-5 minutes only).

TEDxKarachi 2011 was an event for the elite. It had a political slant to it. The line to get in was long, the air-conditioning sucked, there were too many technical glitches with the microphones, the snacks were mediocre and there were people there that didn’t deserve to be invited over many others that weren’t there. The talks were not all exactly what we see at TED Global. Yet I returned from the event thinking that making the impossible was possible. I returned with some ideas that inspired me.

People went to TEDx Karachi with different mindsets. A lot showed up wanting to hear Imran Khan and Mukhtaran Mai speak. Others wanted to go meet the right social crowd. Some went because everybody they knew was talking about it. I went to learn.

Having joined the family business after my Bachelors, I never got the chance to do my Masters. I had returned from university thinking I would get the two to three years of work experience and then apply to some hotshot MBA program. Now that I look at it, it really wouldn’t have made much of a difference. Running your own business gives you a better education than any MBA program. It however, has to be coupled with a desire to learn and adopt new ideas and concepts. Visiting TEDx Karachi was part of that learning.

Making the Impossible Possible

Despite the fact that a couple of speakers didn’t really fit in the general mold of making the impossible possible (Noori most definitely should be awarded a special mention of non-compliance), there was an undercurrent of achievement despite the odds. How to do something that others say is not possible, or to sacrifice things to achieve your dreams is what really moved me.

‘Education is like tinday. You only eat them when you have to’

While Fasi Zaka’s engaging and filled-with-humour talk was more like a presentation designed to evoke thinking, it was definitely not a case of making the impossible possible. It was however a case of the impossible that we really need to make possible. There is a real emergency on our hands. No I am not talking about the fact that our Armed Forces have been caught yet again with their pants down, nor am I talking about an enemy at the border.

• I am talking about the enemy within.

• I am talking about the fact that we are a nation of illiterates.

• I am talking about the fact that 26 countries, poorer than us, are sending more children to school.

• I am talking about the fact that we spend more on PIA, Pakistan Steel and PEPCO than we spend on education.

• I am talking about the fact that somewhere there is a petition signed by 170,000 citizens of Pakistan which was not delivered to the chief ministers of our provinces due to their lack of response (with the exception of Shahbaz Sharif). I’m talking about the tinday (a type of pumpkin) that no one wants to eat.

Fashion Models financed my first drone

“I do not support the drone attacks.”

This was repeatedly emphasized by Raja Sabri Khan. What does RSK do? He makes drones! In Pakistan! In a factory in Korangi!

From the time that he modified some toy planes to be more aerodynamically better, RSK knew he was going to do something with airplanes. He ended up with a degree in Aerospace Engineering “from a small liberal arts college” called MIT and got a job making tractors!

What do fashion models have to do with it?

RSK apparently did a stint as fashion photographer on the side in order to earn money for his drone making. Luckily SUPARCO came to the rescue and one thing led to another and we now have drones made in Pakistan measuring the weather somewhere over Australia among other things. Non-traditional exports that definitely should be encouraged! And while we are at it, we should spend some money and get RSK to make an anti-drone drone.

‘The body adjusts to ambition’

Before I go any further, I must categorically state that I am not a supporter of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI). In fact I think that Imran Khan is a terrible politician and should quit politics altogether. I must also say that I walked into TEDx Karachi expecting a political speech from Imran Khan. However, to his credit he managed to keep his political rhetoric to the minimum (a total of 4-5 minutes only).

Did Imran Khan do something worthy of the impossible becoming possible?

Yes. It was his ambition to become a fast bowler, going against the advice of coaches and experts who said that if he changed his action he would kill his bowling and harm his body. It was his ambition to provide a cancer hospital that provided mainly free treatment to cancer patients and it was said it cannot be done. However, Shaukat Khanum is undoubtedly one of the premier cancer hospitals in the region and 75 per cent of its patients are treated free of charge.

Bulleh Shah was the Che Guevara of his time?

I walked out of the hall when Noori was introduced. I do not actively listen to music anymore as I believe it is forbidden in Islam. However, I hear that Ali Hamza made this statement that confused many.

I have no clue what he meant by that. And if Bulleh Shah had been alive he too, I suspect, would be equally clueless.

‘Pain is not a bad thing, it’s ok to be in pain’

My currently stiff neck begs to differ with Dr Quratulain Bakhtiari on this point. Pain is definitely a bad thing!

What she meant was that feeling of pain is not a bad thing, if you channel that emotion in doing something creative. Her story of how she had to choose between her social work and her children and she chose her work. Indeed her passion for her work must have been something for her to bear the pain that only a mother can feel when she is cut off from her children. Her work in promotion of sanitation and in bringing education to girls in Balochistan was inspiring. So was the story of her childhood when her parents gave up their ancestral wealth to bring up their children in the Drag Colony refugee camp in Karachi. How they put a positive spin on everything unto the point that when her mother burnt her wedding dresses to harvest the silver thread from it, she made it seem a game.

The standing ovation that Dr Bakhtiari got was well deserved. Her talk however made the 23-year-old next to me totally confused. I guess such things are lost on the youth.

The talk that stole the show

Imagine that one bad decision could lead to your becoming a quadriplegic (losing function of all four limbs).

Would you have the will to wake up each morning and get out of bed?

Would you drive a car continuous from Khyber to Karachi?

Would you tape your fingers for months to force your fingers into a hook like formation so you could hold objects?

Would you enroll in a marathon pushing your own wheelchair?

I would not. I would give up, blame life, God, the guy who told me the water was deep where I dove, etcetera.

Sarmad Tariq inspired us in the true TED style. And when the hall jumped to its feet to give him a standing ovation, he pointed out the irony: he could neither stand, nor clap. If you had a choice of seeing just one talk from TEDxKarachi, I am sure everyone in the hall would say it would be Sarmad’s talk.

What good is an independent judiciary?

The story of Mukhtar Mai, sadly, is the story of many women in our society who are subjected to abuse and treated as commodity in a tribal justice system that is sadly often allowed by our courts, to survive a panchayat sanctioned gang rape, to get the courage to file a case against the perpetrators, and to continue on living even when the “independent judiciary” failed her. She realised that her illiteracy played a major part in her inability to seek justice. Unfortunately, she is often forced to pass by and be subjected to verbal abuse by her, now acquitted, rapists. She however, turns the other way and continues to her school.

Mukhtar Mai used her ordeal to start an initiative to educate young girls and to educate the community on women’s rights and gender issues. The Mukhtar Mai Women’s Welfare Organization opened a high school in Fall 2007 which was the first school she ever saw in her life.

The take-home message

  1. We need to focus on education – Fasi Zaka, Mukhtar Mai
  2. Lack of resources should not be an excuse to do something you believe in – Raja Sabri Khan, Imran Khan
  3. Mind can triumph over body – Imran Khan, Sarmad Tariq
  4. Pain, if channeled in a positive direction, can achieve great things – Dr Quratulain Bakhtiari, Sarmad Tariq, Mukhtar Mai
  5. Don’t blame life, or anyone else. You may be down but success is about getting up that one last time. – Sarmad Tariq
  6. Bulleh Shah was a Commie (oops sorry, a revolutionary) – Noori

I would like to end with the lyrics of the chorus of Noori’s song (which they apparently also ended their ‘talk’ with). It is probably the only thing that ties them to the theme of making the impossible possible.

Hum Duniya Badal dien Ge
Hum Ne Khaayee Hai Dil Ki Qasam
Aasmaan Choo Leingay, Choo Leingay Hum….
Dil Ki Raah Dhoondain Gay!
Kay Dil Ne Jhailay Hain Kitnay Sitam…
Roti Yaadon Ko Bhooleingay Bhooleingay Hum…

Muhammad Aly Balagamwala

Muhammad Aly Balagamwala

A Karachi based entrepreneur who blogs at DiscoMaulvi.wordpress.com and MuslimMatters.org and tweets as @DiscoMaulvi.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://islamabad Maryam

    awesome read…!!
    wish i cud attend it too….Recommend

  • http://www. afia

    one of the better reviews of TEDx Karachi in Tribune…. however, c’mon cut Noori some slack here… maybe if you had looked around, the 23 year old next to you may have some enlightened expression on his/her face after the Noori ‘talk’. Recommend

  • Pakistani in US

    Did we really want to know if you listen to music and be pointed to source of your justifications? That had nothing to do with the actual event but you couldn’t resist. Recommend

  • Tyrone

    Hmm u don’t listen to music but you are very in to social media and blogging!

    Ah well to each his own poison!

    I loved your first para the rest of the piece was as uninspiring and out of place as some of the TED X speakers!Recommend

  • umar

    Well written, TEDex Khi a show well potrait in wordsRecommend

  • http://khizarrashid.wordpress.com Khizar

    @afia: that 23 year old was me. And yes Noori actually gave me a good boost….Recommend

  • http://khizarrashid.wordpress.com Khizar

    Well written. I did not like the starting in which that guy was talking about education.

    He was just talking…… And talking has no use, Many people talk. But to make a difference, one needs to ACT.

    TedX karachi 2011 had inspirational speakers over all. Recommend

  • Modasar

    “Running your own business gives you a better education than any MBA program”…..so very true and so very denied. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/DiscoMaulvi Aly Balagamwala

    @maryam: thank you very much

    @afia: the 23 yr old agrees with you. thank you Khizar for chiming in

    @Pakistani in US: that was an explanation to why i didn’t listen to Noori speak firsthand. so it was very relevant and not a forced inclusion

    @modasar: a point that all entrpreneurs often highlight but the lure of a big college degree is often there due to it being preferred by job interviewers.

    @umar: thank you

    @tyrone: glad my article had some redeeming quality to it. :p also i don’t understand the link b/w music & social media/blogging.Recommend

  • http://www.muslimmatters.org/ amad

    Good review Aly. Imran Khan appears to be Pakistan’s one hope for a better future… if only he can get his political act together as well as he does his honesty package.Recommend

  • nafisa

    @Pakistani in US: Judgmental much?Recommend

  • nafisa

    your article paints a very honest picture.thumbs up. Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/DiscoMaulvi Aly Balagamwala

    @nafisa: thank you very much

    @amad: IK espouses the right zeal and ideals. However, were he to stick to one consistent policy agenda instead of shifting his stance depending on situations and to grow his party to be less of a one-man show he might have some better progress.Recommend