TEDx: Five hundred hellos

A TEDx organizer says goodbye to apathy and reactive behavior as she discovers heroes all around her. The upcoming event inspires her to believe that the 'truth is out there.'

Nuzhat Siddiqi July 22, 2010
Organizing an event like TEDxLahore is no easy feat. Imagine pulling a ship over a mountain with nothing but your inexhaustible belief that you will do this and that you will see this thing through to the end, no matter what. That, and the almost skeptical support of friends and family members who may initially think this is a fool’s errand at best.

In terms of popular culture, I call it the Mulder/Scully Effect, where some of us believe that the truth is out there and want to pursue every small lead to get to it, and others want to believe, so they put their lot behind the former. This doesn’t mean either group is superior over the other; it simply means that some of us are probably cosmically charged with the duty of going through the pain and heartache of discovery so that others may learn and benefit from it. That’s how the world should work, and there shouldn’t be any shame in following through the footsteps of othera. That’s part of what I believe, at least.

How it all began

Having worked with the TEDxLahore team for more than two months, I am proud to say that I am working with individuals who have taken this example and have made it human. Strangers brought together by nothing but the ambition to bring change in our country soon morphed into steadfast organizers and evolved into friends who trust each others’ intuition just as much as they question each others’ decisions and don’t shy away from demanding explanations.

This entire exercise was surprising to me at first, but since I am a hopeless optimist after all, it was also a private moral victory for me: "There," I thought," I was right all along. Score!" Now I can point out the dedication and the level of trust to those who doubted my commitment to such a venture without any monetary gain in return. The expected outcome of the inherent goodness in people has manifested right before my eyes; how can I not devote every single free minute of my life outside my ‘real’ workplace to it?

The first thing we worked on was getting our theme right. We decided on ‘Collective Genius’. We were all practicing it from the start.

How we got here

TEDxLahore meetings a lot like sessions in parliament, only by the end of them we actually have plans made and concrete solutions to identified problems that are eliminated systematically by the time the next meeting rolls around. We don’t have a physical office. We are vagabonds always in search of an empty table and a couple of chairs in a place that preferably has Wi-Fi access.

We have been ejected from a famous coffee shop for holding court on their biggest available table with only two thousand rupees worth of coffee consumed. We have been marginally paranoid about having meetings in public places, but what can we do? Our ambitions are too great to be confined in someone’s lounge.

Initially, the room we occupied for meetings at LUMS was termed ‘maqbooza kamra’. Our express hope was to have a ‘maqbooza hhar’ or even a ‘maqbooza mohalla’ so that we could freely collaborate and communicate whenever and however we wanted, without leaking any secrets too soon. But that hope was soon packed up and made to leave by the demands practicality was making on us. So let the environmentalist in me snatch a metaphor from nature and state here that we are like spores in the breeze. We take root wherever we find hospitable ground. We also cause allergies in some people, but hey, that’s the least people can and should tolerate when something greater is at work.

Our meetings, while laced with the kind of second-by-second humor that would make for an excellent sitcom, are also quite productive. We work, we play, we get work done. We leave frustrations and calculations for Google documents, spreadsheets, text messages and angry phone calls to be made late at night.

Where we stand now

With only fourteen or so days left till the event, we have finalized our speakers, we have partners, we have the venue, we have things in as much order as is humanly possible. Applications to attend have been pouring in steadily and we will keep receiving them till July 22 to give everyone a fair chance of attending.

To borrow something from J.R.R. Tolkien, our story grew in telling. Our event grew in planning. We went from 100 attendees last year to 380 attendees this year. We have 15 phenomenal speakers and the applicants we have been dealing with are a class of their own, whether students, professionals, or anything that cannot be defined or labeled.

Personally, it is humbling to be amidst the kind of people that make superheroes look like funny men with an unhealthy fascination with masks and tight clothes and not much practical achievement. Collectively, it is uplifting to know that these people exist, that they are out there, that they are doing what they are doing for a better tomorrow, and that we can learn from them, talk to them, listen to them, and let them know where we are coming from and where we want to go. We can aspire to have a network that sustains and supports hope through collective genius. We can leave the pessimism aside, and instead bring our ideas to the table, raw and misshapen as they are, and connect with people who can add to the idea and probably make it work.

In literature, there is a certain period of time famed for Greco-Roman heroes. There are epics written about how so-and-so lived in a time of heroes, and most of us are all automatically nostalgic about these times that we have absolutely no connection with. But with TEDxLahore, at least one thing has been cleared up for me: we are always living in times of heroes. We just need to find them. It won’t be too much to say that at TEDxLahore this year, my summation will be proven true.

Goodbyes and Hellos

And at this point in time, with all that I have learned and absorbed along the way, I would like to say goodbye to apathy and reactive behavior, and I would like to say hello to everyone who was, is or will be a part of TEDxLahore. I want to say hello to the amazing volunteers, who continue to work tirelessly day in and day out to make the event go as smoothly as possible. I want to say hello to the organizers who are constantly inspiring in their dedication to the project. I want to say hello to the partners for trusting us with their goods and their money. I want to say hello to each and every person who has applied to attend for their spirit and zeal. I want to say hello to the service staff, the drivers, the doormen, the carriers and the cleaners who have stepped in when we stepped back. I want to say hello to the friends and the significant others who have allowed us the time and space to get this done. Last but not the least, I want to thank all our parents, for raising us right, for guiding us through the ups and downs of life, and for finally letting us go and letting us be our own people.

TEDxLahore hasn’t just unearthed a few silent heroes. It has nearly made heroes out of us all.

Here are five hundred hellos and more, brought to you by my unshakeable belief in the power of storytelling and the unequivocal desire to be connected to the world, people, stars, stones, mountains, music, trees, streams, oceans, otters, that-which-you-call-God, yourself that I believe is in all of us, all the time, no matter what age we are and what our job title is and what class we belong to.

If we are alive, then we must share our genius. And if we must share, then let it be the best of what we can possibly create by putting every ounce of our heart and every fiber of our being into it.

All or nothing, ladies and gentlemen. That’s what this is all about.
Nuzhat Siddiqi An eco-warrior, storyteller, tree-hugger and book-hoarder. Nuzhat is the media coordinator for WWF in Lahore and is in touch with all of the field offices of the agency. She is also an active member of TEDx.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Nuzhat | 13 years ago | Reply 'ello Karachi Feminist! We're aiming for the best. Stay tuned. :)
karachi feminist | 13 years ago | Reply some advice. please make sure the conference is more meaningful than its karachi counterpart. http://lurkinginambush.blogspot.com/2010/07/ghost-of-tedx.html
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