Also cross posted on Express Tribune Blogs
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.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.
People went to TEDxKarachi with different mindsets. A lot showed up wanting to hear Imran Khan and Mukhtar 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 2-3 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 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 TEDxKarachi 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 humor 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 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 TEDxKarachi 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 can not be done. However, Shaukat Khanum is undoubtedly one of the premier cancer hospitals in the region and 75% 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.
“Bulleh Shah was the rock star of his time. The Che Guevara of back then”
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. Similarly 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
“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.”
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, etc. 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, not clap. If you had a choice of seeing just one talk from TEDxKarachi I am sure every one in the hall would say it would be Sarmad’s talk.
What good is an independent judiciary?
“I believed the Supreme Court would provide me justice. Now I have left my case to Allah.”
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 realized 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.
What is the take home message?
We need to focus on education – Fasi Zaka, Mukhtar Mai
Lack of resources should not be an excuse to do something you believe in – Raja Sabri Khan, Imran Khan
Mind can triumph over body – Imran Khan, Sarmad Tariq
Pain, if channeled in a positive direction, can achieve great things – Dr Quratulain Bakhtiari, Sarmad Tariq, Mukhtar Mai
Don’t blame life, or anyone else. You may be down but success is about getting up that one last time. – Sarmad Tariq
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…