TEDxChennai is one of those independently organised TED events that happen around the world. This is the event’s sixth year in running in Chennai, and my second year of attending a TED event. Read here for TEDxChennai 2018. The event organization was better than last year. For every talk, each speaker’s name slide had personalised clipart made in the traditional Tamil style of Kolam, by talented artist Udhaya Sankar.

The organizers have done an appreciable job of staffing the registration booth and other areas with transgender men and women from a social inclusion start-up called Periferry – and it was a new and nice experience for me to interact with them and even give them a high five!

Venkatarangan attending TEDxChennai 2019

  1. The program started with an energetic dance and music by Madras Records of their album titled “மகிழ்ச்சி“, made by The Casteless Collective. Their producer Tenma talked about their struggle of being a young rapper in getting the opportunity to perform.

Magizhchi – Tenma and team from Madras Records

  1. Anusha Shankar, a nat-geo explorer and ecologist, talked on her experience of studying the hummingbirds in the Andes. Hummingbirds are tiny creatures that are extremely active during the day, burning all their energy in the process. In the night they go into a state of hibernation, shutting down much of their body organs. If Humans were to spend the energy in the way of these birds, we need to eat daily 300 hamburgers to feed ourselves!

Anusha Shankar – Hummingbirds are incredible animals, with among the highest metabolic rates of all vertebrates

  1. Toby McCartney, from Scotland, started with dumping a bag full of rubbish on stage. He talked of solving two world problems with one simple solution – using waste plastic as a mix with bitumen in road laying. This reminded me of a similar solution invented in Tamil Nadu by Dr Rajagopalan Vasudevan of Madurai’s Thiagarajar College of Engineering. Tiby also talked of how the poor in India are cooling themselves with sheets of cut plastic bottles.

Toby McCartney – The Zero Electricity Air Cooler made by cut Plastic Bottles

  1. Girish Mathrubootham of FreshWorks talked about the social work they are doing by running a charitable trust to promote grassroots football in India including running a residential home with talented coaches and world-class turf to practice.

Girish Mathrubootham – FC Madras

  1. Jun Kamei, a biomimicry designer and material scientist talked of the dangers of rising sea levels due to climate change and how humans may adapt themselves by “growing” gills to breath underwater. An intriguing idea.

Jun Kamei – Amphibio – A gill garment for our aquatic future

  1. Raaghav Chenthur, an architect who gave an uninspiring talk on using Graphene to build our future homes and offices.

Raaghav Chenthur – Graphene buildings

  1. Post break during which they served a tasteless chocolate water drink, was a mesmerising dance by Yang Shih Hao (Taiwan) using his Cyr wheel (single large ring), which he calls as his little whale.


  1. Meghna Chaudhury, co-founder of The Gender Company spoke on the gender stereotypes and prejudices we all carry with us. It is better to do multiclassification and look for the commonality of the people around us, rather than the differences. She talked of the Stereotype Threat Experiment done by Dr Claude Steele.

Meghna Chaudhury – The Gender Company

  1. Kenneth Mikkelsen, the co-author of The Neo-Generalist: Where You Go Is Who You Are, talked of the importance of being a generalist, a jack of all trades – which is a contrast to the public opinion that success is possible only if you specialise or focus on one thing. To understand the events around the world now, a useful way to gain a broader perspective is by thinking in terms of shocks and slides. Marie Curie and Winston Churchill are good examples of Neo-Generalists. Our world is not linear, complex problems don’t exist in isolation. In today’s world specialist can’t compete with the agility of neo-generalist. We can produce interesting things when the left brain interacts with the right brain and not in isolation. The conveyor belt model of education was a relic of the industrial age requirement, where we produce in specialist and it was useful to produce people with tested and proven skills. To connect the dots, we need to travel between being a specialist and a generalist, we have to be a parent and a child at the same time – a teacher and a student at the same subject.

Kenneth Mikkelsen – Neo Generalist

  1. Balaji Maheshwar has fallen in love with single screen cinema hall across the country and he is involved in photographing and documenting them. He also is one who looks at the characters on screen who appear out of focus – the extras. பாலாஜியின் உரை, தமிழிலில் (Tamil) இருந்தது, அதனால் அதிகம் ரசிக்க முடிந்தது.

Balaji Maheshwar – Single screen cinemas

11. Prerna Mukharya, the founder of Outline India talked about her experiences travelling the length and breadth of the country (to over 7000 villages) talking to people directly. She says go small, look into the details. It is small data and it is bigger than the big data. She sees herself to be humanising data collection, giving voice to the voiceless so that they can be heard in the halls of power. She is a neutral data collector, she can’t get angry.

Prerna Mukharya – Founder, Outline India – Humanise Data collection

Box Lunch

Next came the lunch, which at this venue (Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao Concert Hall) is always a hassle due to the space constraint and restrictions. They served a boxed lunch (Vegetarian and Non-Vegetarian) which was okay, I would’ve appreciated a coffee or tea to go with it, I would’ve been happy to pay extra.

  1. What followed was undoubtedly the star show of the event – live cooking (cold cooking, no fire or heat) by MasterChef Australia 2018 winner Sashi Cheliah. My son is a big fan of Sashi. The audience during registration had selected a few of local ingredients, spices and vegetables which remained a mystery to Sashi and he was asked to make a dish using them, and he made a good looking vegetable salad with panner topped with idli (red chilli) powder.

MasterChef Australia 2018 winner Sashi Cheliah

  1. Swarna Rajagopalan, founder of The Prajnya Trust talked on how do we define citizenship – it is a promise between an individual and the state, each other promising the other something, the individual with loyalty and the state with safety. She talked of a story from her family, of how her grandfather and his brother while working in Burma, spending their time in the evenings teaching the illiterate boatmen on how to count, so that they can earn for the correct number of parcels they unloaded/loaded. We need to do good stuff without caring whether it is my job or do I have the necessary training to do this. We teach others by what we value, our compassion, and our acceptance of everyone around us. She left us with the question on whether we know the rights we have in the Constitution of India and who are we defined to be collectively?
  2. Abhijit Sinha, educator and founder of Project Defy, came out as an interesting and passionate man. He creates nooks – community learning centres with no teachers, and, no exams. We think children are stupid, they are not.

Abhijit Sinha – Project Defy – Nooks

  1. Dayanidhi Maran‘s talk was the most moving of the day. The simple man exhibited such a strong conviction and belief in what he is doing, the noble task of conducting last rites for unclaimed dead bodies, that the audience were moved and gave him a standing ovation for minutes. He runs the Life Trust NGO, which functions on donations. He says that performing last rites for orphaned bodies, is supposed to be bestowing the performer with the benefits of performing the Ashvamedha Yagam (Yajna). திரு மாறன் அவர்கள்  உரைநடைத் தமிழில் (Tamil) உணர்ச்சிப் பூர்வமாகப் பேசினார்.

Dayanidhi Maran – last rites for unclaimed dead bodies

  1. Arshdeep Singh, the young, ten-year-old photographer stole the heart of everyone. He is a wildlife photographer who has won the young wildlife photographer of the year award (Asia). He attributes his success to the parenting followed by his parents who encouraged him to follow his dreams. The photo of two spotted owlets sitting inside a barrel that he took was breath-taking.

Arshdeep Singh – Young Wildlife Photographer

During the breaks, they showed these recorded TED talks:

  1. Web cartoonist Randall Munroe answers simple what-if questions;
  2. Derek Sivers explains how movements really get started;
  3. James Veitch – This is what happens when you reply to spam email.

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