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Towards a Cognizant World—TEDxManipal

As the crowd in the TMA Pai Auditorium filled the hall with whispers of excitement and anticipation, the organisers of TEDx waited with bated breath as months of preparation was set to come to fruition. Raghav Kumar, the head organiser, took the stage for a few minutes to explain the theme of the event: Cognizance. He described how crucial it was in today’s fast-paced social and political climate for young people to be cognizant of the world around them. As he wrapped up his introduction, the speakers prepared to deliver their talks—the third edition of TEDx Manipal was officially underway.

Session 1
Varun S

“I am a summation of my stories,” said Chaya Dabas, the founder of Baatein—a writing platform for poets and storytellers, and the first speaker of the day. She began her speech with an anecdote about how her father would pick up inanimate objects like toothbrushes and pens and bring them to life with stories. She further went on to describe how she grew up in a house where everything that surrounded her had a story to tell, and how this enriched her view of the world. As an avid basketball enthusiast and budding storyteller, she appeared to have a bright future ahead of her. However, at the young age of 13, she was diagnosed with cancer, and suddenly her whole life came to a standstill. She spoke about the importance of not planning too far into the future and living every moment to its fullest. She concluded her speech with a passionate call to the audience to believe in the power of stories and their ability to heal the harshest of wounds.

The next speaker, Ms Gayathri Prabhu, offered an entirely distinctive experience from the other speakers. Her speech was written in the form of poetry. She proceeded to narrate a beautifully constructed homage to the strange dichotomy of being a teacher and being human. She described the scars left by an abusive childhood, and the pain of making it through to adulthood, never having fully healed, and the difficulty of being honest with her students in a world constructed by dishonesty. The pain in walking into a classroom, knowing that you must hide a part of yourself, was something that she had difficulty dealing with. In her own words, “Teachers can’t have scars. Teachers must be normal.” She wove together strands of her past to deliver a painfully honest and heartfelt experience, and by the end of her speech, the audience felt a strong emotional connection with her.

Chhaya Dabas spoke about the importance of living life to the fullest.

The third and final speaker of the first session was Srikaanth Vishwanathan, a swimmer from Bangalore. At the age of 46, he completed an arduous 14 hours swim across the English Channel, finding himself amongst the rare group of people who have achieved this feat. He spoke about his intense training regimen and all the difficult setbacks he faced throughout his 10-year journey towards achieving the impossible. He further stressed the importance of pushing yourself beyond your capabilities. He ended his inspirational and rousing speech with a quote from Neal Donald Walsch—“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. He left the audience feeling like the world was theirs to conquer, as the event went into the first break of the day, the Social Space.

Session 2
Joshika S

After the first round of talks, the attendees headed over to TMA Pai Hall 2 for a short interactive session aptly named Social Spaces. Members from the audience got the opportunity to talk to the speakers and ask them questions about their passion and profession.

The second session began with internet personality and former POPxo video coordinator, Cherry Jain taking the stage. She spoke about how she dealt with feeling like the odd one out and having to project an image of someone she was not. Channelling her fears into creating content for social media helped her turn her life around. Cherry built her social media presence from the experience that she gained from working with POPxo and now she successfully runs her own blog, Much, Too Much. Her captivating stage presence kept the audience hooked throughout her talk, which concluded with emphasising the importance of accepting one’s flaws.

The next speaker was Ankita Modi, a second-year biomedical engineering student from MIT, who is working on raising awareness about prevention and cures for nosocomial infections. These infections are contracted due to the toxins present in a hospital. She shed light on this sinister phenomenon and showed how ignorance in this matter has led to a high mortality rate. By citing an example of a patient who had been admitted with injuries due to a road accident but eventually lost his life due to nosocomial pneumonia, she emphasised on the consequences of a lack of awareness on this issue. She then delved into the prospects of research on the usage of nano-particles to cure such infections. Concluding her speech, she urged the audience to focus on research for the betterment of humanity and not just for the sake of publishing papers.

Ankita Modi has been raising awareness about prevention and cures for nosocomial infections.

Shubham Jain, an alumnus of MIT, was the final speaker of the second segment. The founder of Tresmoto, a company that focuses on building an IoT enabled electric two-wheeler, his speech gave the audience an insight into achieving success in a startup. He presented an in-depth analysis of the various industrial revolutions and how they played a crucial role in widening the gap of income disparity between the rich and the poor.  Speaking about the AI boom and the increasing number of jobs that are lost to smarter technology, he cited examples of places where AI performs at par with humans. He reflected on how companies like Uber infiltrate the market and create thousands of jobs, but would also be the first to hand out pink slips when autonomous vehicles enter the scenario. His speech emphasised the value of human resources over AI, in spite of its numerous advantages. The talk was followed by a brief break from the proceedings for a quick lunch.

Session 3
Joshika S and Aryaman Jha

After the lunch break, the congregation reassembled as the next speaker, Megha Bhatia took to the stage. Megha Bhatia is a lawyer by profession and the founder of Our Voix, an organization that conducts workshops around the globe to sensitise and empower children against sexual harassment. However, she mentioned that it has been difficult to get schools’ permissions to organise these workshops. In some cases, they have only been allowed to conduct the workshops for girls, failing to acknowledge the abuse faced by millions of boys. A few disheartening video clips were played, which showed children admitting to being afraid to confide in adults if they were harassed. Further, she addressed the ignorance surrounding this issue and how people fail to realise that a staggering amount of child sexual abuse cases are perpetrated by family members or acquaintances. Her dedication to the cause shone through in the way she persistently laid stress on the importance of taking cognizance of the millions of voices that go unheard and giving them a chance to speak. Her talk was well-appreciated and received a massive round of applause by the audience.

The next speaker was Sovesh Mohapatra, a seventeen-year-old student from Orissa. Sovesh has spent much of his past few years working on tech-based solutions to humanity’s everyday problems.  He discussed the difficulties he faced while trying to embark on a route withholding only academic interests as he hails from a land where marriage and family are deemed to be the end goal in life. He then explained the importance of AI in facilitating speedier drug testing which in turn enables the development of more efficient medication. He spoke about his work in developing a therapeutic method to cure cancer, by targeting only infected cells and leaving the healthy ones unaffected. He also went over some of his other innovative solutions that include software to predict the quantum efficiency of solar cells with 95% accuracy and a road safety app that helps prevent accidents. He assured the audience that he was no child prodigy—all he did was stay focused on his desired path and prioritised his work over everything else.

Sovesh talked about how we can use technology to solve both the trivial and significant problems we face.

Aaron Friedland, the final speaker of the day, is a scholar, a social worker and an entrepreneur advocating the art of reading. He commenced his talk with a brief history of the six reading revolutions throughout the advancement of mankind—starting from reading animal tracks and stars, to the advent of the printing press, and finally to merging photographs and videos for optimum information. The shift from reading the text to absorbing visual media distracted people from the actual process of reading, with TVs impacting literacy rates and basic linguistic capabilities. Aaron spoke about his company, SiMBi, founded to empower global literacy by partnering with UNHRC, which focuses on the ‘reading while listening’ methodology. SiMBi developed a peer-to-peer reading app that allows students to read out loud and record books that another student across the world can listen to and follow along at their own pace. Different accents and dialects make the platform a wonderful and easily accessible method of learning. He concluded his presentation with ‘A Huxleyan Warning’, a concept derived from two books, which essentially reminded the audience of the significance of the art of reading.

The event ended with the organisers giving a vote of thanks to everyone involved in making it an enriching experience, including the Dean of KMC, Dr Pragna Rao and the Director of MIT, Dr Srikanth Rao among other sponsors. Furthermore, they also expressed their gratitude towards the audience and most importantly the speakers for sharing their wisdom and experiences with the students of Manipal.

Image Credits: The Photography Club, Manipal.