The first time Mukhtaran Mai realised she was illiterate, was when she entered the police station to lodge her FIR.
“If I had known how to read, I could have read what they wrote,” she said to a spell-bound audience at the second edition of TEDx on Friday at the Southend Club.
From that day forth, the gang rape survivor made it her mission in life to educate as many as she could. Today her school has 700 students.
TV host and columnist Fasi Zaka sent the audience into ripples of laughter as he opened the talks. “The economic cost of not educating Pakistanis is equivalent to having one flood every year,” he said. But people prefer to discuss foreign policy, unemployment and electricity woes instead of the need for a widespread education campaign, which was as interesting as “teendas” (the vegetable). Meera’s 25th birthday was a topic that dominated more conversations than the need to build schools.
Aerospace design engineer from MIT and CEO of Integrated Dynamics, Raja Sabri Khan gave a refreshing perspective on drone technology, emphasising that he denounces drone attacks in Pakistan. He clarified that his organisation does not make the drones that target militant hideouts in the north and that the aircraft could be put to better use if employed for surveillance.
“Drones are not meant to be lethal,” Khan said. “They do not have minds of their own; they can be used in rescue operations.” For example, had a drone been deployed above PNS Mehran in Karachi for surveillance, lives could have been saved.
Imran Khan was the last to speak before the tea break. Guests sat up in their seats when his name was announced by Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy, who added “heartthrob” before calling his name. Imran took the stage and earned a few laughs when he said, “How much talking time am I allowed? You know how politicians love to talk!”
In keeping with the theme of the event, Imran spoke about the importance of moving on after a setback, adding that “dreams should not be scaled down after defeat”. He shared humorous anecdotes from his early cricketing days, when initial failure resulted in headlines such as “Imran Khan’t”. The audience laughed as he talked about a cricket match when he got out on the first delivery. He talked about the humiliation he felt as he walked back to the pavilion, adding that he went “from ‘lion’ to being the victim of Punjabi expletives in a matter of minutes”. He recalled a time when his team had lost a match to India and had debated whether they should return to Pakistan “at a time when everyone would be asleep”.
The talk then turned political with Imran criticising the government, calling the top leadership “criminals who rule the country”. He expressed anger at the Kharotabad shooting, where a pregnant Chechen woman was shot by security forces who suspected that she was a terrorist. “This is the real Imran Khan,” chuckled an amused guest, as his speech ended with his trademark line, “There will be a revolution in the next election”.
Before the talks started, organiser Dr Awab Alvi told The Express Tribune that he was “keeping his fingers crossed” for Imran’s speech to be apolitical. “Imran is not speaking as a politician,” said Dr Alvi. “He is coming here as a philanthropist and social worker and is aware that he will not be talking politics.”
The second half kicked off with the band Noori singing their Coke Studio sensation ‘Aik Alef’, minus their drummer, Louis J Pinto. The brothers spoke of their journey to the icons they are today. They started a band in their A’ Levels, inspired by the innate need for guidance that they saw in their peers. Along the way, they realised that they would have to be that inspiration.
“Bulleh Shah was the rock star of his time. The Che Guevera of back then,” said Ali Hamza.
The good doctor
The second speaker for the evening was the grey haired Dr Quratulain Bakhtiari. Coy but confident, she related her childhood as a refugee and her life of providing refuge. “I spent my first 12 years in a refugee camp which became Shah Faisal Colony,” began Dr Bakhtiari. She told tear-jerking tales of her parents’ lives after the Pakistan Movement and her own during the 1971 war. She was 21 years old when she graduated with a BA degree — and three sons. Her story would take a book to fill, from building toilets in Balochistan to becoming estranged from her family for 10 years. Her message – embrace the hardship. “Pain is not a bad thing, it’s OK to be in pain”
The quadriplegic racer
Sarmad Tariq dove into 2 feet of water at the age of 15. For a boy who aspired to be a heavyweight boxer and to own a Harley Davidson, breaking his neck in three places was not as immediately disturbing as one would assume.
“My exam results were about to come out. I figured my parents couldn’t be mad at me because I was injured,” he said, grinning. Tariq spoke about working his lifeless fingers into fists so he could grip, type and drive. He “bragged” about finishing the Lahore and New York marathon’s despite running out of breath, coughing up blood and tearing a hip muscle
“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.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 28th, 2011.