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TED India: A Blog About Ideas

3 November , 2009

TED India, Mysore

November 3rd 2009

I had absolutely no idea what to expect as I traipsed half way around the globe for an international conference about the power of Ideas in a country that is right in the middle of reinvention. I had signed up, got the invite, bought the flight and somehow managed to think of three concepts on my name badge (with a little help from a friend, thank you S) before I arrived. Beyond that, nothing. I had failed entirely to engage with the online talks and the emails telling me what to expect. Caught up in the rigours of an equal pay trial, Big Ideas were not really featuring heavily in my somewhat over-taxed brain. Nor did I really think about printing off basic necessities, like the address of where I was going, or a number to call if things went wrong.

And, since this is me, and no story is complete without at least some element of drama, yes, I did become the only TED India attendee to catch a public bus from Bangalore in the throes of jet lag and weeks of sleeplessness without an address or number, and get unceremoniously dumped in the middle of a pitch black highway by a few rice paddies with a rucksack (it’s true) and a bright green handbag a few kilometres outside Mysore centre with no address, and no number. Did I already say that? So, as I sat contemplating the cows which I could hear but not see, since there were no street lights, and the fact that the pollution and noise of Bangalore had wiped out the last of my lungs, I pulled out a bottle of Bisleri and tugged on a  prayer to find an auto-rickshaw. And one came. Out of the dark. Wanting only one thing.

To know which Infosys campus I was heading towards. You mean there was more than one???

So, let’s say I had an eventful journey through the rice paddies of Karnataka on my way to a conference about Ideas. Nothing ironic about surrealism.

And I did truly wonder whether I had lost the plot, coming to India on a whimsical flirtation with a Big Idea.

Without an address or a number. My brother calls me a space cadet for good reason, it seems.

But, as I arrived, whisked onto a grandiose campus that resembled the White House and its acres of lawns, and was taken to a pristine room,  filled with internet connections, water to brush my teeth, information about a swimming pool and squash courts and bowling alley and library and bookshop and theatres and art installations on this beautiful academic space, the flow began to come back to me.

And within all of about ten minutes I had found that MoJo again. Wow! The promise is inspiration and I am spellbound. 

I have been here for about four hours and it has been unbelievably unique already. Dinner was being served for everyone in a big hall. About 500 people from mostly the US, a few from England and Europe and a fair number from India milled around drinking lime soda and eating delicious food, whilst chatting to everyone. Now, as a lawyer and journalist, both professions given over to excessive chat, conferences are not shy events. But they are usually tainted with the opportunism of networking and grandiosity in a way that was entirely missing from the feast of people and converations that lingered on every table and open space.

Tonight I met a wonderful French woman; she works in advertising, moved to Montreal, and over green tea cake,  told me about her latest weird dream and her worries for France under a President who has to wear heels. I met a gregarious New Yorker whose passion for media and the wired world has helped make this stealthy community of people obsessed with Ideas what it is. An English film director, a Californian guy who set up his own micro-brewery, Hans Rosling who will kick off the conference tomorrow, a warm Indian woman from Mumbai who works in arts at the British Council, media-savvy Indian women from Delhi who work with the press, a Swiss program director who thinks all things Ideas and a plethora of Americans who have been to TED many times over.

It has barely begun but I feel that there is something extraordinary about this event. People who travel from thousands of miles to experience something new, to understand and experiment with something new. It has been enough to make me leave my phone in my room, and only connect with my laptop at night. For those who know my obsession with being “wired”, that is a significant gauntlet.

I can hardly wait for tomorrow. I shall catch up this blog then. For now , what was your last weird dream?

Oh, and my Name Badge:
Talk to me about:
Woman in Havana, Human Rights, The Fourth Estate


Final weird fact of the day: The Ulema in India has issued a fatwa against any Indian Muslim who sings Vande Mataram. Make of that what you will, for those in favour of fatwas, and those who make national anthems nationalistic or jingoistic. Still, as anthems go, I quite like old Vande Mataram.

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